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About this blog

Archived VT away match reports and thoughts I wrote from 2002 to 2011 for the old site that had a front page.

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blandy

2011 Away Match Reports

 
 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The retrenchment of expenses plan and the future of the club

 
Archie from the latin lions started a good debate about the finances of the club on the VillaTalk forum. He posted:
“I have been very struck by the recent decision of the club to cut paltry expenses like the free cup tickets for the staff (when the stadium is half empty in the first cup ties) and the free Match Programmes for the Lions Clubs' chairmen. 

Obviously I have no problems to pay the match programmes from now on, this is not the point. 
What leaves me perplexed is that the sums that you can save with this plan of retrenchment of expenses will be about 1/1000000 of the costs that you have for some average players with top player wages like Dunne, Beyè and others. 
So, decisions like these, on one side don't improve the financial situation of the club and on the other side cut to the quick the most genuine part of the club, the staff and the fans, giving the strong impression that the property is preparing to sell up the club, and in order to do so must give the purchaser the impression that the books are balanced and that there are not useless expenses. 

Obviously I hope to be wrong but this is my impression at the moment”. 


The discussion is a good one, and led me to the following thoughts

There are two sides to this coin, and they're both valid. The one side is that over the past 3 Summer windows, and the January windows the net result of transfer spending is a sizeable income. Over the whole of Randy's time, the total is a net outgoing of about 32 million (it's impossible to be precise, because a lot of fees are undisclosed). 

So in recent year supporters have seen us very much as a selling club, selling off the better players and not replacing them with the same quality, after an initial period when a great deal of money was spent, that took us from down the bottom of the league to consistent top 6 (but no better) with good cup runs, too. 

The other side is the wage bill. It was allowed to get out of hand. Far, far, too much money went out of the club to players and agents that was simply out of proportion to their contributions to the club and team. That situation has to be addressed, the wages have to be at a sustainable level. 

Making that adjustment was always going to be painful and involve a period of transition for the team. That's still going on. 

So how's it progressing? What's good and what's bad? 

Well, clearly, a significant number of highly paid players have gone - Barry, Friedel, Milner, Young, Downing, NRC, Luke Young and so on. 
Then again, others have come in - Shay Given, N'Zogbia, Darren Bent, Ireland... and some remain - Beye and Cuellar are not first team regulars, but are surely on high wages. 

So I suspect that there's still a way to go, yet, to bring down the wage bill. Additionally, of course there's the wages paid to managers, and pay-offs to them and their staff when they left. Those one-off hits will affect the figures. And we don't know what moneys were paid to players leaving, in terms of them claiming all kinds of bonuses and so on, to which they would claim entitlement under their contracts, if they did not formally ask for a transfer. It might seem "wrong" to the likes of us, but that's the mess football is in, generally. 

So cutting the wage bill - work in progress. Hard for everyone, basically. 

What's good? - well, it may not be exciting, exactly, but the facilities for corporates (>100 boxes and suites) and to an extent some of the facilities for fans - the Holte suite for example, have been upgraded and enabled more income to be taken on a match day. Sponsorships are much better than a few years ago. These are good things for the club, financially. And the TV deals are much higher than they were. 

What's bad - ticket prices. Also the way it is reported that sundry minor costs such as the coats in Archie's OP, and SC chairmen's Programmes - various trivial items are being made into a big thing at the cost of goodwill. That's bad. 
They really messed up with the ticket prices, IMO. To have an increase of around 7% on average, in a recession, whilst selling the best players and appointing a manager who was not exactly wildly popular and who has a record of dull football was both insensitive and counter-productive - particularly when so many games are moved for the TV. 

It's extremely unfortunate that while doing all this the only communications from the higher echelons of the club have been what looks right now like a deal of bluster from General Krulak and a letter from Randy which looks like an accountant got hold of it, left just the first part untouched, changed the rest and then forged his signature. Paul Faulkner sent a slightly better version out later on. 

People might comment that as fans we're over-demanding, for ever wanting "spend spend spend" and have no appreciation of the intricacies of running a club. And they'd probably be right. 

But then the club doesn't exactly go out of its way to inform us, to teach us, to help us understand. The communication we get seems to be of a fairly basic style - bombard us with texts and e mails about shirts, tickets and packages - tell us we're great and our support is great in missives handed down, or the kind of friendly, well meaning tub-thumping from the General. 

What's utterly lacking is any shade. A form of communication that fills in the gaps between "buy stuff", "we're going to win" and "great fans". There's nothing influential or informative coming out of the club. Stuff gets raised and then quietly forgotten about. For example the Olympics next year - VP dropped out of hosting games because the ground would be being rebuilt at the North stand end. HO'K's plans would be revealed to us., we were told. But nothing.... 
OK, change your plans to adjust to changing situations, but perhaps having told us one thing, they have a duty to tell us about the change? And it's that same thing with the plans for the team, or for that matter the Club. 

"Committed as ever" is about the size of the detail we've been given. Well sorry, but the evidence before our eyes says something different. The evidence before our eyes says that we're not aiming for the Champions League places, we're all about financial retrenchment. So talk to us. 

I'm certain that better and more honest communication could have seen things turn out differently. As it is, because of the lack of proper information us fans have been stridently voicing our displeasure, the Club people feel bombarded and defensive and even less inclined to talk to us, thinking that all we do is unjustifiably moan. 

What's that saying about before criticising a man, walk a mile in his shoes? - in other words try to understand his situation for a time before you have a go at him. 
Both the Club and us lot, the fans, need to try that. The club, to their credit have been contacting and speaking to us individually about why we haven't renewed season tickets. I wonder what they'll do with whatever conclusions they draw? Will they tell us? 
Then again "why haven't you spent 500 quid on us?" might also be seen as a bit "me" focused - you know "why have you stopped paying me money". For football fans, I think, the relationship between fans and their club is not about and certainly should not be about money. Which is where many of us are massive hypocrites, of course. We want them not to just treat us as consumer units from whom they can take their 50 quid for a shirt and 38 quid for a ticket whilst simultaneously we demand that they spend 15 million on a winger. 

The only way that situation can change is by communicating. We know what we think (I think) and we write it on here and on other sites, we talk to Radio and sometimes even the telly and the local or national press. 

The club has the odd SCG forum and talks to some fans they know personally, but there's not been enough communication for us masses, that at a level much beyond "buy this thing". 

Now, more than for a long time, the Club should be a force for a "feel-good factor", but it's not, is it? It was when Randy was spending money, and we loved it. We still admire him greatly for the good things he's done, but currently I think we have every right to be concerned about the future and the plans for the club. They really need to talk.
 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Backdrifts (honeymoon is over)

 
Here we are in the middle of summer, there’s no cricket on today, and with only men playing with their sticks and little balls to occupy the commentators, I thought I’d sit down with a cup of tea, a chocolate biscuit and ruminate over the state of things at Villa Park.

Now obviously there’s a lot gone on over the past few months, and equally obviously there are very few fully content Villa fans around at the moment. So this article tries to look at things from a wide angle and voice some opinions on the general air of frustration and anger apparent on the message boards.

Let’s start off by going back 6 months or so. The team was losing rather more games than was comfortable, the manager was deeply unpopular with a large part of the fanbase and a number of the players. There was real concern over the possibility of relegation. A concern that was only eased in the last couple of weeks of the season. We also had 2 of our better players who seemed unlikely to sign new contracts, and who would therefore be candidates for sale. In the case of Ashley Young it had been apparent for a while that he wanted to move on and with Stewart Downing, though he had initially indicated how happy he was at Villa, there was a change of heart or maybe he just said he was happy, because players often don’t tell the truth about their true intentions? Either way, before the season had reached its end he was clearly wanting to go.

So what’s happened more recently?

Well, firstly we have a new manager. Leaving aside the circumstances of the change - unfortunate, serious illness - most fans would have been pleased that a change would be made. It just didn’t work out with Gerard Houllier did it?

Secondly, Manchester United came looking for Ashley Young, and he duly went, with Villa getting around £15 million in exchange - not bad for a player who didn’t have a great season (though he shone at times) and had only one year left on his contract. Decent business by the club.

The next event to look at is the choice of new manager, and the process around identifying and recruiting him. Leaving aside rumours and speculation we know that Steve McLaren was due to be interviewed and that Villa, for some unknown reason, cancelled the scheduled interview and ruled him out. A wise move, in my view, though we don’t know what that reason was.
We do know that Robbie Martinez was a target, and we also know that, admirably and unusually, he decided loyalty to his club Wigan was of primary importance. Whether he’d have done the same if, for example, Liverpool had wanted him is another matter. We also know that (many people’s favourite) David Moyes said that he had no interest in moving to Villa. Mark Hughes was said not to have been a target, despite his sudden resignation from Fulham. 
With things dragging on rather, we then had the bizarre sequence of events that saw Alex McLeish appointed, after he resigned from the Small Heath Alliance role. Whatever our travails, that lot are in a much worse state.

Anyway, his record is mixed. Good and less good with Rangers, and 2 relegations with the Small Heath as well as, strike a light a trophy and their highest ever finish a couple of years back. He has also done solidly at Motherwell and Hibs in the past. A mixed bag.

In some ways he is an impressive man - dignified, straightforward and highly recommended by many who know him.

What he is not, is “glamour”. There’s a fair part of the Villa support that yearns for a “star” name - BFR was perhaps the last man with the sparkle to lead the club. Others point out that Villa has often thrived under the control of the less extravagant types - from Mr Saunders, to Brian Little, Graham Taylor even. Of course what people really want is someone who wins.

With no games to judge Alex McLeish by, many look at his association with “them”, the 2 relegations he oversaw and have simply decided “no way”.

My reaction was rather more confused. When I first heard he was a serious candidate, I didn’t think “yes” or “No”, but I reacted to the likely reaction of others - “that’s not going to go down at all well” and “Jees, have they gone totally chuffing mad?” Still, he’s ours now, and I wish him well and the best of luck. He’s definitely going to need it.
He's started off well, in getting 20 million quid for a player who clearly wanted to be elsewhere, who was apparently moping about the place and who has had perhaps 7 good months in the time he's been at the club. Stewart Downing is a good player, but he's definitely not worth 20 million quid. Good work 'eck.

Anyway, all this carry on at Villa, in isolation, wouldn’t really be of much concern to me, we’ve had ups and downs, ins and outs and all that many times before, but there’s something else, something more general and it’s best summed up, perhaps by the phrase ”what is the (football) world coming to”.

In this, I know I’m far from alone. The majority of my football mates are of the same feeling. It ranges in intensity, but all of us are pretty dejected at the general state of the game.

For me, when Randy took over at Villa, I was thrilled most of all that we had a bloke in charge who seemed to be at the club because of football. That might sound odd, but I look around at other clubs and see a number of owners who seem to be in charge because of money. Randy with his renovation of the place seemed to understand and to demonstrate that he understood the importance of the Club as a sporting institution, not as “an asset” or “an investment” or “a franchise”. I liked the way he stayed in the background, in he didn’t interfere, he just got people in and let them get on with their business, unlike owners at many other clubs, or the previous chairman at this club (and he didn't even own it). Randy was a barrier against the prevailing attitude that Premier League Football is simply a "product" or a means to get some limelight or influence that has so disillusioned many of my friends.

I’m not quite sure I still feel that way. Maybe I’ve been spoilt, or maybe no-one, not even Randy, can hold back the tide. Who knows?

The thing that’s so galling about football being marketed as a product (apart from even having to use words like “marketed” and “product” when talking about sport) is that there’s no active place in it for supporters. There’s a deliberate downgrading of us from being a core part of the game, to being passive units to whom nylon replica shirts and season tickets must be sold, all kinds of “purchase opportunities” thrown at us. Can’t I just watch 22 men kick a ball about, please? And can’t I please do so for a reasonable price? and may I do so at a time that is broadly convenient to me, rather than to satellite TV, or the police?

It’s like we're just units corporate football wants to sell to. We're not treated as a part of the game. We have no value other than as a means of shifting nylon shirts and expensive season tickets, or Sky subscriptions. The game is "sold" at such a base level, there's no depth to it, no appreciation of the culture and ethos of support. They want us to cry if we lose, wear a replica shirt for the camera and be part of the background to their 3D programme. They use us, they think we're theirs. They don't value us. This, I think, together with the predictability of the final placings is what has done for many. None of that was caused by, or is unique to Villa, but our club is a part of it now. As I said, I thought, when RL came along "here's a bloke who values the club the players and staff and fans as something other than money. He's a bloke who already has money, he wants to be in the game, for the sake of the game, for the sake of the club." But it doesn't look like that's the case any more. He doesn't speak to us, which is fine, but his mate, the General, says "judge by what we do" and then they do something daft, or do nothing, or do the same as the other clubs and owners. Sponsorships get cancelled, kits are late, players leave...

Maybe that’s harsh on Randy and CO. - maybe it’s a not the case in reality. But it appears to be like that. Could the reason be that one man (or one man and a couple of mates) cannot run multiple Sports clubs? Cleveland & Villa and still also do all the other stuff - the art, charity, finance and so on?

MO'N as a bit of a control freak was happy to take on that workload at Villa, to run the club as he saw fit (which had it’s downside), but broadly worked, then, whatever you think of the football style, or players bought and sold.

The club was run as a team. We were part of it, but after Martin O’Neill left it looked like GH and PF have been less capable at the whole leading and initiative thing. Bluntly, where's the action that shows us what the board is about?

I’m sure some adjustment to FFP rules and overall accounts is necessary. If so, I think we should be told. What I’m talking about here, though is that there’s been no authoritative figurehead, and this gap, combined with a clear lack of information about the aims of the club, about the overall direction we want to go has left not just me, but many more supporters quite downcast. 
What too, does it say to sponsors, to players, to all the other people involved with the club? Can anyone say with any certainty what the aims of the club are? Is it to balance the books and survive? Is it to aim for the top 10, the top 6, the top 4? Is it to be a kind of production line for good young players to be sold on at a profit? What is Aston Villa for, these days, exactly?

If Alex McLeish can get of to a reasonable start, the current antipathy towards him will fade and maybe he can, with his directness and honesty start to tell us what the heck we aim to do - he’s, to my ears and eyes, and better communicator than Houllier. So far we’ve heard cautious words about money available and working with what we’ve got. Hardly stirring stuff. When fans see rival clubs buying our players, spending gazillions and moving up the pecking order many think that with Villa seemingly all spent up and intent on profiting from sales and cutting wages that we have no hope. I doubt that season ticket renewals and shirt sales are going to be what they were a couple of years ago.

Despite all this, football is not completely broken, as many people proclaim. It’s still possible, as the likes of Blackpool, Swansea, Norwich, Brighton and so on have shown, that good management at board and team level is the defining factor, rather than pure money. There are other examples too, though most are in the Football League, rather than the premier league, which was set up for money, operates for money and has money is it's core reason for being.

It is still possible to find examples of outstanding managers, people who can work and build attractive, successful sides without simply buying everyone else's players. So what I want as a Villa fan is for the Club to try, I also want the club to be sustainable and still here in 100 years and fully accept the need to operate sensibly. Tell me what the lay of the land is, and I’ll set my sights accordingly.
The template for Villa is with a good manager, a board that works with the manager towards a common agenda and goal, with players who are committed, staff who want to be here, who enjoy the work they do and with the whole club operating with a touch of class and style, the whole thing from fans to the man at the top will go in the same direction. And all of those things are possible with no money (relatively). Every single one of them.

Can we say that over the past couple of years that’s what‘s been happening? I think not. The respect for those things and the focus has gone. The Club these days is more likely to say one thing and do another, or just to say nothing. No explaining, no communication. Raise ticket prices and sell the best players. These behaviours are factors that lead to the opposite of a "common goal". You can see the evidence all over the messageboard, in the form of fans comments. You can see the evidence in want-away players, in the downgrading of the status of the club from “challengers” to “mid-table at best”.

Some people have said this has all occurred because the board is not "football savvy", but the things I’m talking about are common to all walks of life, whether it be running a business, a political party, a charity, or organising a village Fête...

It's my belief that there are many good people at our club, it's not lack of good intent, or lack of integrity or honesty that's the issue. What needs to happen is that the ragged ends need tying back together. They need to open a fresh can of Leadership, look up the word "Communicate" in the dictionary and then get back to pointing us all in the same direction (once they've decided what that direction is, of course).

Finally, back to those horrible words "product marketing" - the team is the thing that sells tickets, it sells shirts, it also sells pies and beer and hospitality and sponsorship and TV rights. It always will be. So make sure it's as good as can be.
 

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Gérard Houllier - Au revoir

 
Soon another name will get to have the privilege of managing Aston Villa Football Club, The new manager will, in all likelihood have the opportunity in the closed season to assess and rebuild the squad here, and will be able to set the team up in the way he wants, after a period of pre-season friendlies, training sessions and a fair bit of “getting to know you” time. None of those things was available to Gérard Houllier when he joined Villa in early September last year

Instead he was brought in after the shock walk out of Martin O’Neill (in timing if not in eventuality) and had to take the controls of a club that was reeling and veering in the wake of MO’N’s departure.

In such circumstances things were never likely to run altogether smoothly. The club had perhaps been wrong footed, and whilst the efforts they went to to try and identify and recruit MO’N’s successor were thorough and diligent, the search took longer than ideal and left supporters and players restless in the uncertainty.

These were the cards Gérard accepted as his hand. To be frank he didn’t play them well. He spoke of the club that had finished 6th in the preceding 3 seasons as being a natural 7-12th placed club. Perhaps, given the situation, that was a realistic objective for the season ahead, but it certainly got the goat of the fans - it sounded unambitious, it sounded, to some, like a slight on their team and a pre-prepared excuse not to aim higher.

There were also some issues regarding players who had previously played under Gérard at Liverpool - Friedel, Warnock and Heskey. He certainly seemed to revitalise Emile, who along with Marc Albrighton was a dynamic force in our attack. Brad Friedel remained the true professional, kept his head down, and concentrated on keeping goal. But in Stephen Warnock we saw that things were not all sweetness and light. Warnock was exiled, seemingly never to return.

Results were up and down in the early months, and away performances were largely poor, and if the performance wasn’t poor, then we still managed to lose.

The meeting with his former club, Liverpool, at Anfield on a Monday night 3 months into his time in charge at Villa was to prove another débâcle. Not only was the team given a shoeing by Liverpool, themselves struggling, not only did the players look utterly demotivated, but then Houllier added salt to the wounds by firstly completely ignoring the Villa supporters who had been singing and cheering all night for their team, for HIS team, in favour of opting to applaud the fans of his former club on the Kop, and then compounding the error by post match comments appearing to suggest that he was happy to lose to Liverpool.

Unsurprisingly a furore errupted. Angry supporters, a media that’s always ready to jump on a story and then the damage limitation exercise. The whole escapade was revealing. It showed several things. Clearly Gérard had, in part, come back to English football to try and prove something to his former club, a club whose supporters he holds in high regard, and fair enough. But that drive led him to show, perhaps, at best, a disregard for the Club, players and supporters of his present employers. He sort of apologised, but didn’t seem to acknowledge, or maybe even realise, that he had been unwise.

Efforts to repair the damaged relationship with us Villans followed - the club tie, the thanks to the fans after games. These efforts looked stage managed, but things began to pick up, to move on. The FA cup gave us good wins over Sheffield United and Blackburn and maybe, just maybe, a good cup run could be the saviour of our season?

But like that game with moles and mallets, as soon as you pop one on the head, another appears. At a team bonding session it was alleged that Collins and Dunne had over lubricated themselves tonsillarily and let rip with their views on training methods and coaches.

It was evident that perhaps too many changes had been made, too quickly. yet at the same time there was an old Houllier habit of blaming others - a defeat to Bolton in March was blamed on Martin O’Neill’s defensive zonal organisation. In truth while the defending all season was largely poor, it was bad finishing that cost us that game. Darren Bent a welcome January signing, who scored the goals to keep us up and whose finishing is normally so good, had missed 3 clear chances, Stewart Downing another and there were numerous other near things. In Downing and Bent, Heskey before he was injured, in Bannan, Albrighton, Clark and others from the youth set up we could all see there was talent at the club. The results were not matching the sum of the squads parts. For every performance like the 2-2 draw at home to Man Utd, where a injury hit and youthful Villa side tore them apart, playing an attractive brand of football, before tiring and succumbing to 2 late goals, there was an utterly woeful performance, like the defeat at Man City in late December, in which the players didn’t seem to know what to do, to care, or to be playing “for the manager”.

And it was Manchester City who played a part in the next foot/gun/bang moment. Drawn away to them in the FA Cup, Houllier put out a depleted side. Despite some good football, the side was shown up and then dispatched by a full strength City side.

Fans were again furious - there were only 2 league games in March, why rest players? That we then lost the next game at Bolton only made things worse. And the league table wasn’t looking pretty.

Following a grim home defeat to Wolves, the fans turned on Gérard Houllier big style. I’ve never heard or seen a Villa crowd turn on a manager with such intensity. If I thought in December that his time was up, it was clear at the end of that Wolves game that there was going to be no way back. While feeling for someone subjected to that level of antipathy, in what is after all, only a game, and must be a dreadful experience to undergo...well it just wasn’t working.

After thinking that Houllier would never regain the sympathy of the supporters, and that he had brought much of the situation on himself, things took an altogether more serious turn. Houllier was taken ill with chest pains, a legacy of previous problems, and no doubt exacerbated by the reality of his working situation. Thankfully he appears to be on the mend, I truly hope so, and perhaps too it’s made a few people realise that there’s a lot more important things than games of football. Certainly the best wishes of all Villa fans, and many more from the wider world are with Gérard Houllier.

In his enforced absence, the team brightened towards the end of the season, probably co-incidentally. Though we lost another local derby, this time to Albion, we managed to win against Liverpool and Arsenal, and end up somewhere in the middle of that “7th - 12th” place bracket the Houllier mentioned back in September. Throughout most of the season, ironically, we’d have snatched anyone’s hand off, offering 9th.

If I was to summarise my feelings about the time Gérard Houllier spent at Villa it would be along the lines of “a decent man, with a philosophy about the way to play that game that I understand and like, but one who through circumstance and his own flaws, as well as his strengths managed to live up, and down to all the expectations of him” which as summaries go is pretty muddled.

It’s undoubtedly the right thing that he leaves the club, football’s not worth dying for, or getting ill for. And Aston Villa needs a change, too.

Salut et bonne santé, Monsieur Houllier.
 
blandy

2010 Away Match Reports

 
 

Thursday, September 09, 2010

New star in the sky (chanson pour Villa)

 
In my last article I looked at how the Club has communicated with us, over the search for a new manager, concluding that there were a number of things that could have been done differently. I said then that I had no complaints over what they'd done, just what they'd said, or not said. So now, given things have progressed on a deal, let's look at what they've done.

Randy and the board have been pretty thorough in searching for and appointing the replacement for Martin O'Neill. Given the appalling set of circumstances in which they had to operate - Martin walking out in a huff with just days to go before the season started, and little time left to act in the transfer window - the club seems to have acted with a great deal of professionalism. The board consulted with respected figures such as Graham Taylor, and also appointed, we believe, professional consultants to help and advise them on the search. It should be remembered that whilst undoubtedly hugely enthusiastic and admirably dedicated to the Club, Randy is not someone steeped in the history of UK football through long involvement.

Initially caught out, I suspect that there was a strong desire to see how Kevin MacDonald got on, perhaps with the hope that he would be the answer in already their lap. Kevin did a good job, but limitations as well as strengths were exposed, and it was clear that a wider search was absolutely necessary. Kevin, too didn't exactly thrust himself into the limelight, declaring "I want it". He betrayed an uncertainty over whether the demands of the job were something he wanted to accept to the detriment of a settled and enjoyable career, spending most of his time using his talents coaching players twice a day for the reserves, and being able to go home and enjoy his family life.

At this point the searching and tentative approaches became the priority. Again, because of the circumstances and timing, this was particularly difficult. Many possible candidates already in a job, would have just made their plans and commitments for the season at their clubs, just told signings that they would be around, just given commitments to boards that they would be staying and operating in a particular way over the season. Whilst players will move at the drop of a hat, good managers tend to be a little more loyal, having thought for the damage to their repuations that walking out on one job for another can do. How can they demand that players stay and play, if they themselves are known to have jumped at the first chance?

How would Mark Hughes have looked had we walked out on Fulham after just committing to a contract to work there for the next few years? What would it do to Everton if David Moyes left for Villa one week into the season? These are fine managers, and no doubt Villa would have been keen to talk to them were they available, but they weren't. Same goes for Martin Jol. It does seem that Villa made efforts to understand where these people and their Clubs stood.

It's also the case that Martin O'Neill had huge freedom to decide transfer fees, wages, to appoint people in all kinds of positions - and not just playing and coaching positions. This meant that when he left, a whole raft of people went with him, leaving a bigger hole than might otherwise have been the case. No doubt some of the advice given to Randy (not that he'd now need it) would be that this level of autonomy shouldn't be something that is repeated with the next appointment. The new man would need to be someone who would be given freedom to operate from a football perspective, free to choose his assistant, but who would accept that a degree of budgetry control from above will be imposed, and that outside his direct role, the coaching structure of the club will remain as it is in most respects. The scouting network could do with improvement, Martin perhaps saw little need for contacts and scouts beyond the UK, due to his preference for players already settled to the unique demands of British football.

Because of the level of finance involved in Premier League football, most appointments of managers to clubs at the upper half of the table tend to be risk averse - the desire for evidence of solid achievement far outweighs the urge to take a chance with someone from the lower leagues. Fear of failure and the consequences is just too large to gamble.

As fans of course we perhaps look for the wildly optimistic fantasy appointments - we want the next (or current) Morinho, Hiddink, Wenger, or maybe yearn for a former favourite to return like the prodigal son - in the way that Brian (blessed be his name, for he walks on water) Little did.

None of these were options.

So that left us looking for someone not currently managing, with experience (Premier league experience was identified as essential) with good contacts, able to work with a set of players that can't be changed until January at he earliest, with a record of achievement and someone wise enough to understand that they will not be the single arbiter of everything that goes on at the Club.

Put like that, of course, the choice of Monsieur Houllier seems like absolutely best one that could be made. Multi trophy winning, experienced and capable, and with something to prove, perhaps, after his latter time at Liverpool.

We don't know who will be his number two, but it should be someone of his choosing. Which brings us to what to do about Kevin MacDonald. He's clearly respected and admired, rightly so, by not just the players, but Randy and Co. Having belatedly, perhaps, decided he'd like the job, it must be difficult to work out what to do, for all concerned. Randy is a man of integrity and honour and he will want to do the best by Kevin. Equally Kevin will need to decide whether he wants to return to his happy life working with the reserves. If Gérard Houllier wants Kev to work as his assistant, then great, but if he would prefer someone else, then his choice must prevail.

In my view the board of our club has yet again done well. Only time will tell as to how things work out, but the choice looks like the best one from the possibilities available, the process undertaken, while lengthy has been thorough and comprehensive, not just a paniced dart to get someone quick, but an appraisal as to what is needed followed by matching those characteristics against candidates.

Our new manager has so far said only

"I could not turn down the opportunity to manage a club whose approach, both on and off the pitch, I have long admired. Villa is one of England’s biggest clubs and has an amazing set of fans. This is a tremendous challenge and one I am very much looking forward to taking on.”

In the way of these things, he's perhaps being slightly generous, given the gap to to Arsenal and Manchester United, the finances of Chelsea and Manchester City, the trophies of Liverpool, but Villa is a big Club, just one starved of success, and one with fans who are desperate for that situation to end. I hope our generosity towards him matches to towards us.

Bienvenue et bonne chance, Gérard.
 

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Don't Tell 'em Your Name Pike! - Villa's Media Strategy?

 
Everyone will know by now that on the 9th of August 2010 Martin O’Neill resigned from his job as manager of Aston Villa. Since that time, how has the club kept us informed (or not) on the search for a new manager?

The first obvious point to make is that the resignation clearly came as a surprise to the club. Indeed on 10 August General Krulak said on this site:
Martin's decision to leave was just that...his decision. He quit 5 days before the start of the season. He was not pushed out. Martin's decision was a surprise to the Club. 

So not an easy point from which to start - caught unawares at the worst possible time and therefore with no pre-prepared plan for announcements, or a strategy for addressing the worries and hopes of the fanbase.

But the early strategy was to get some sort of message across as to why Martin had left - The explanation given was a difference of opinion over the need to cut costs, and that the Club had some concerns at board level that players not being used needed to be moved off the wage bill.
General Krulak said on this site:
There is no question that if ANY Club has players that are on the payroll but not playing on the pitch...it is prudent to sell them if possible.... a Premiership Club must balance wages vs. revenue...cutting the wages must include the sale of some players
He knew full well about the need to bring wages in line with revenue...the same as every Premiership Club.
The reality is that the wage to revenue issue was not addressed and Martin apparently was unwilling to help address it.


no one person is bigger than our Club...not me, not Randy, not Paul, not Martin. What is interesting is that, apparently, only three of those named understand that fact.

So job done there, to an extent. It should also be pointed out that the General also spoke well of the good work MO'N had done for the club. Also apparent was that the ambitions of the Club have been reigned back a tad, sensibly so, perhaps, given new rules and the world financial situtation. “Spend spend spend” is no longer an option. 

The following day, 11 August, Randy Lerner broke his normal silence to tell the press: 
As for explaining why Martin left, I can say only that we no longer shared a common view as to how to move forward.

So line drawn. So far so good. Well handled, by and large, by the Club. What next?

The Club at this point were eager to appoint someone quickly - The General on 10 August told readers of VillaTalk
We recognize this is an important decision and one that needs to be done rather quickly but, equally important, in a manner that gets the right man

More good stuff. Nothing earth shattering, just a recognition of the priorities.

Unfortunately things then went very quiet for 10 days. Far too long. Supporters anxious to know what was going on, and seeing the sale of James Milner and a couple of poor showings on the pitch were becoming exasperated by both events and the silence. Speculation and fears filled the gap.

Aug 20: The General returned to tell our readers
General Krulak here: I think I have answered this question many times but....there is NO deadline on bringing in a Manager. We want to get the "right" person...not "a" person by a certain time. 

Hmmm, Nothing about the type of candidate the Club is looking for, nothing about anything really. Just a sort of "we're in no rush". Unsurprisingly this didn’t calm people down. If anything it made things worse from the fans' perspective. "Sure they say they want the "right" man, but what does that mean?"

Two days later, Aug 22, and The General also starts to become exasperated at the ferment building up on the messageboard: I am not going to answer MON questions...he left and that is that. What I will say is that MON did NOT have funds removed at the end of July....The idea that we must run out and get a Manager just to say we have a Manager does not make sense. 

The thing going wrong here is not just the lack of information, of reassurance, but also that the tone had changed with it. The information from the General was becoming reactive to the storm, rather than feeding us anything new. 12 days after saying the Club recognised an appointment needed to be made “rather quickly” there was now no sense of urgency, and no detail as to why timing was less important than quality. What sort of manager might we be looking for?

It’s harsh to put the blame for this vacuum with General Krulak. He undoubtedly does his best to pass on what he knows and what he can say, as often as his schedule allows. The problem is nearly 2 weeks elapse and the Club has basically said next to nothing about anything in terms of the next man. Sure, maybe we fans should be more trusting, but on the other hand perhaps silence is not the best policy at a time when reassurance is badly needed. With the transfer window close to closing - just a week to go, and clear weaknesses within the squad as well as the stated and widely accepted need to cut the wage bill, fans wanted to hear of progress - even if it wasn’t in the form of a name or shortlist of names, they wanted to know how the process was going, who was involved in deciding the criteria the new man would need to meet and so on.

This message was something the Club maybe seemed to begin to understand
Aug 23 General Krulak
..we are looking for a Manager. Please think about the issue...our previous Manager left us 5 days before the season. MOST talented managers are already employed...they have jobs...they are not sitting at home waiting for us to call. Yes, there are some out there that have great talent but they are currently doing something for someone else. This means digging deeply into the pool that is available...getting feedback and info from advisors on who and where. This is NOT something that is done in two weeks...yet that is what you expect. I am telling you it doesn't work that way but most of you will just gaff me off and say it is all PR.

And then another gap in communications, until, finally on 28th August, the General started to say something with a bit more meat to it - the sort of thing that the Club could and should have trailed 2 weeks earlier.

When MON left, the Club absolutely made up a list of Managers that we would approach. ...a new Manager is not something that happens overnight....we did not, in any way, stop the search/effort to research and talk with potential managers. That effort is ongoing....
Sometimes it would seem that the fans think that nothing is happening... Nothing could be further from the truth. Not a day goes by that we are not working this issue. ...Yes, we could get a Manager in...but we are not interested in "any" Manager, we are interested in the right Manager. It is as simple as that! 


We have spent MANY hours looking for the person....we have traveled and we have talked...JUST because it isn't spread all over the London Times does not mean that we haven't been working. 

How much better would it have been if that had been said well beforehand? - for example something along the lines of:

Immediately MON left, the Club made up a list of Managers that we hope to approach. Obviously a new Manager is not something that happens overnight, but we will not, in any way, stop the search/effort to research and talk with potential managers. That effort will be ongoing. Clearly we can’t make public all that is happening with regard to the process, and at times you may think nothing is happening, but that won’t be the case. Not a day will go by that we won’t be working this issue. Yes, we could get a Manager in tomorrow...but we are not interested in "any" Manager, we are interested in the right Manager. It is as simple as that, so please bear with us and trust that we are doing everything in our power to make the right choice. And remember that we will be traveling and talking and just because it isn't spread all over the London Times does not mean that we aren't working. 

Would that kind of information and reassurance have been helpful? What would have been the harm in it?

Anyway, they didn’t go that way, but by just short of 3 weeks after Martin left we had the following from the General:

I believe that Randy and the Club will be putting out a statement either today or tomorrow re. the efforts ongoing to find a Manager. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying he will announce a Manager. He does recognize, obviously, the concern of the Fans and will want the Fans to know essentially what he has done and when. As I indicated, he started taking action as soon as MON turned in his resignation and left 5 days before the beginning of the season. Randy has not stopped working the issue since that date. He has refrained from putting out a statement for many reasons...the two key ones are simply 1) that it is not good business to articulate your plans in the media...it causes too many problems and 2) it is not good for the Club to wake up every morning and read another article about another Manager that the owner is interviewing

Personally, I think the arguments for saying nothing are to an extent nullified by the fact that the press will not stop printing stories and speculation about the vacancy just because the Club says nothing, and that there’s a happy medium between silence and “revealing your plans”. 3 weeks is a long time to wait for a statement on the search for a new manager, isn’t it?

Below is a slightly shortened version of the statement from CEO Paul Faulkner, on the OS

Following the departure of our manager on August 9, the Club was left with very little time to react and to prepare for our opening fixtures.
Our first order of business, looking immediately ahead to our games against West Ham, Rapid Vienna, Newcastle and Everton, was to ask Kevin MacDonald to step in as caretaker manager... 
As such, we felt he would provide a critical degree of stability and continuity in a turbulent period and give the team the best opportunity to succeed in these early games.
We are conscious that we have steered clear of openly communicating our thoughts on the search for a permanent manager until this time, as we felt that to do so would undermine both Kevin's and the players' efforts to focus on preparing for these games.
To date, we have immersed ourselves in the process of appointing a new manager and clearly identifying the key criteria this person must meet.
Two of the traits we believe are of crucial importance are that candidates have experience of managing in the Premier League and a strategy for building on the existing strengths in our current squad.
We have thoroughly researched potential candidates and have reached out to a variety of contacts we have within the game for advice and guidance, as well as keeping key staff at Villa Park informed and focused.
We will now start the process of interviewing candidates we believe meet the key criteria required to manage Aston Villa with a view to making an appointment in the near future.
Kevin MacDonald will continue as caretaker manager until that time...
We would not expect to make any further statements until such time as we are in position to make a definitive announcement on the managerial situation.


That’s a bit better. Again, though, much of this statement could have been said weeks before it was finally made.
In my judgement it would have made little difference to media speculation - they could have left out the part about Prem experience and said all this much earlier, with no ill effects, but with the advantage of looking a lot more in control and professional to the paying supporters, sponsors and media. The explanation for saying nothing as it would undermine Kev MacDonald is both rather peculiar, and perhaps revealing of some naïvity.

Meanwhile the General has kept up his posting on our message-board over the last few days
Aug 30: discussing the Manager and the criteria is NOT something I am going to do. There is NO value in such a debate...for the Fans or for me. Randy has said he will announce the name...and I will just wait for that to happen.

Aug 31
Randy will find the "right" Manager for the Club. He cannot and should not react to every thought of every fan or every thought of every Board Member. At the end of the day, he needs to do what he feels is right. Some will agree with his decision, some will not....but it will be his. I can honestly say that names in the media are just that....names in the media. 

sep 03
...You have no idea who we are looking at other than reading the papers...and those that you have guessed correctly, you have something negative to say about all of them. Suppose we happen to pick one of them...or suppose we are trying to get one to come to the Club...I am sure they enjoy reading the blogs to see how our fans react to their names...and rest assured, anyone we would want is smart enough to do some due diligence on the Club and Fan base. Simply put, there are some Fans who have just turned on Randy like pit vipers... I have done all in my power to keep you all informed as to where we are...and there are some that just discount everything I say....we are continuing to work towards a resolution of this issue. WE didn't quit the team 5 days before the start of the season...WE didn't leave the Club high and dry. If you think that it is easy to go find a Manager, think again. You have mentioned some high visibility Managers...do you really believe we haven't spoken to them? You say we should throw money at them and they will up and quit their current Clubs...you know nothing!! For those who understand the issues we are faced and support us...thank you! For those who don't, I would only ask that you try to fathom the depth of the issues and the effort we have been expending since this all started.

I am not sure what "naming names" will do...now or after the choice has been made. What I will say is that there is not a single name that I have heard that hasn't been the brunt of VERY serious discussion. Simply put, we have discussed every name I have read on this Board and have done more than discussed with the VAST majority of them....We have interviewed and met with a significant number of people...spoken, written, etc. To think that we have only looked at two or three people is simply dead wrong. 


Now those 3 posts are a very mixed bunch, and betray a frustration that fans have become impatient and fractious and in some cases sceptical and distrustful, even. A reluctance to name names, and then confirmation that all those names the fans discussed were or are considered at some point. By now neither the General, nor many fans seem to be posting as rationally as perhaps they might wish.

To be frank much of the frustration and anger, even, has been caused, or at least exacerbated by poor communication from the Club.

It might be different in the real world, but on planet football, at a crucial time of the season, perhaps the most crucial - the transfer window - it is simply not possible to go without a manager, sell your best player, suffer an absolute shoeing to a side just promoted and a home cup defeat and say as little as they have about the search for a new manager, and not get a fair portion of the supporters concerned and angry about the lack of information, lack of squad reshaping and lack of direction and an apparent drift.

My concerns and complaints are not so much about what they have or haven’t done, but what they haven’t said, and the large gaps between when they have(n’t) said it.

In a world where communication surrounds us - internet, TV, radio, press twittering and all rest, people, fans, have become accustomed, for good or bad, to having information readily available. When the people are also your paying customers keeping them so much in the dark is a bad move. 

There’s no need for a blow by blow, daily account of progress, and the point about not revealing too much is taken, but equally some sort of formal weekly progress report from the club would have saved a lot of grief for the General, a lot of anxiety for supporters and would have enhanced, rather than diminished the Club’s good reputation for talking openly and honestly to its fans and customers.
 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rough Trade - What I don't like about the Milner and Ireland deal

 
Warning, this article contains a whole bunch of disgruntlement, but I've been thinking about the soon to be confirmed transfer of James Milner and the incoming of Stephen Ireland and a number of things want saying.

The first point is the most obvious one - James Milner leaving. He's a very, very, good player and has the potential and attitude to get even better. Villa will be weaker without him. He's a player that the Club didn't want to see leaving, one that we'd said we had every intention of trying to keep at the club. But he's gone, or all but gone and although I wish him well there's surely a risk that his career could well suffer from this move. He'll be used as a utility player, or play a lot less games for the mancs than he would have done at Villa, just to keep City's ever growing crop of players happy. Sure the deal is on the face of it not a bad one by any means, and the total value of the deal at around 26 million is a healthy gain on the 12 million we paid for James 2 years ago. But as a fan I'd rather we'd managed to keep hold of him. Another of our best players is lured away by money. He's not gone to Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester United, he's gone to the dysfunctional money pit of Eastlands.


The second point is that Milner seemingly wanted to go from the off, but didn't not want to allow this desire to become public. He was apparently miffed when Martin O'Neill let it be known that he wanted to leave. Why? it was the truth. It might, for James Milner, in many ways be the smart, way to behave - to say nothing rather than to come out and say "I want to go, because they pay obscene amounts of cash and have as good a chance as Villa of winning something, maybe a better chance". But we all know that's exactly what any rational player would be thinking and I'd kind of like to hear them say it a bit more often. I think it's the being taken for a fool really that gets me, from players. There's a tick list of things that players are seemingly advised to do to win favour, and it's daft.

1. Say words like "Big Club", "do it for the fans" "great supporters" "Step up in my career"
2. Kiss the badge, or grab hold of the shirt badge and give it a hefty tug. 
3. "Sorry to leave"

I could go on with the list, as could we all, but it's mostly tired old recycled load of tosh from some ancient manual of insincere player-speak and no one really believes it do they?

Thankfully James Milner hasn't done any of that (yet), but I feel that's only because he's a smart cookie, not because he's any different. If he comes out at his Man City preference and says "Look, they are paying me by the bucket load, just look at it all, who wouldn't, eh?, I mean I don't have any affinity with City or the manager, and they'll probably sack me off in 12 months or so, but bloody hell look at all the money. Wahey!" I might forgive the whole sorry mess, but more likely, even with his savvy, he's going to say "thanks to Villa..." and then spout some variation of the "career progression...Big Club going places.." standard spoff. Does anyone really believe this stuff is genuinely meant?

And what about the destination he's going to. Now in many ways City has been an admirable club. Very decent fans (mostly), a sense of grounded reality and attachment to their roots. But this is changing. Sure the fans will be the same good bunch (plus a load of new glory hunters, of course), but the way the club behaves now is devoid of the grounded in the real world type of class they have exhibited in previous times. They have so much money that they don't feel the need to bother with the pleasantries or incovenience of concepts such as decency and integrity. "Want that one"...."Don't want it, get that one" The throw-away society gone mad. Same as Chelsea (though they never had any class to start with, to be fair. Randy was spot on to call them for their attitude. Not that it'll make an iota of difference.

Number four in my personal list of grouches is that it's a player exchange deal. Why, when Aston Villa are operating under a temporary manager are we buying a player in, for a still sizeable sum (£8 million odd) when the next manager is still being sought?
What if the next manager thinks - "no, I don't rate Ireland at all". While Martin O'Neill was here and apparently OK with a part exchange involving Ireland, fine. But MO'N stomped off and we are currently (permanent) manager-less. So who has decided to go for Ireland, rather than straight cash? and why? We've publicly said that the wage bill must be cut, and rightly so, yet we're replacing one well paid player with another, and at the same time losing out on £8 million or so in cash. Something doesn't add up here. I wish I could work out what. And knowing who decided to stay with the player exchange deal, rather than change the deal as circumstances changed, and why they made that decision is the only way this concern can be answered, because for me, only football managers should be deciding who to buy, or at least have a chance to say "no" to someone else's decision. Always. If that changes then the sporting focus is gone from the club.

On what is becoming a monumental fit of grump, my fifth dislike is the background, where (it is said) Stephen Ireland stood his ground over his contract terms. From his point of view he didn't ask to be sold to Villa, or anyone else, we're told. He will get paid less money than at City, and City therefore owe him the difference. If he doesn't get it he won't leave. Fair enough you might answer, and it's hard to argue from one angle, but the other side of the coin is "Great, you can see how keen he is to play for Villa, from that". Is it standing up for yourself and your rights, or is it a very rich young man wanting to get even richer? Probably both. Whatever, it's unedifying. Add in City doing similar last season with Richard Dunne and you just get a picture of the way they do things and treat people again lacking class.

Another concern is that I have doubts about Stephen Ireland as a player. He's a tremendous talent, for sure. But he's got a reputation for a certain degree of flaky behaviour. Again, if we had a manager who was content to deal with, er, "characters" like Stephen, then fine, back his judgement, take the risk. But we haven't got a manager. So we've got a player who was not looking to join Villa, who reportedly would happily have stayed in City's rotting pool of unwanted reserves, rather than miss out on an extra million quid, who has not met the Villa manager, still joining the club. Surely this is not the way things should be? Does it sound like a recipe for success?

We don't know why Martin O'Neill left Villa, but looking at that lot above, I have some sympathy if he was becoming fed up of many aspects of the game and fancied a sanity break. Then again if he hadn't dropped his bundle, maybe some of what looks like a bit of a muddle might be rather less muddled.
 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Employees leave Job

 
After 4 years, Martin, Steve and Robbo have resigned from their jobs at our Club. In the near future other people will be appointed to fill the vacancies, perhaps from within the existing staff, perhaps from outside. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is soon upon us.

What did you make of the last 4 years? Why did they go? What happens next?

Around 4 years ago Martin O’Neill was appointed manager, just before the start of the season. The club was in the process of being passed from Ellis to Lerner, Martin knew this and knew he had some pretty decent players to work with, he knew too that the potential at Villa meant that with a fair wind he could make us much better than we had been in recent seasons. We had after all been run by a numpty and a self-obsessed clown (pin tail on donkey whichever way you wish).

For his first game away at Arsenal barely 2 weeks after he started, Martin had a squad that had a core of very decent players – amongst them Laursen, Mellberg, Barry, Agbonlahor, Bouma, Gary Cahill, Steven Davis, Sorensen and Baros. He also inherited the back up of a truly excellent youth and reserve set-up that continues to provide a good batch of promisingly talented young players.

So the raw ingredients he had to work with were by no means bad, and he had the benefit of the feelgood factor he himself brings, together with the impetus of a long overdue change of ownership, plus the prospect of strong financial backing from Randy Lerner, a man he’d met prior to accepting the managers role as Ellis was on his way out the door.

In that first game at the Emirates, the team’s effort was genuine Ron Saunders 110% stuff, and despite being outplayed by Arsenal for long periods a draw was earnt, where defeat was perhaps expected. It’s fair to say that the Villans, including myself, in the away end that day were pretty euphoric throughout the match. Things were on the up.
Throughout Martin’s 4 years as manager, the away games have been a real joy to go to, by and large. The style of play, the commitment, the resolve and the results have been excellent, for the most part. Over the 4 years, I’d say 8 or 9/10 would be a fair mark. From local derbies to games at Old Trafford, the Emirates, Anfield and so on, the team and the manager has done the fans proud.

At home things have been less clear cut. Results have been more mixed. Too many draws, some soft defeats and some pretty depressing cup exits to the likes of QPR and Leicester. Of course there have been some highlights, too. Blackburn in the cup last season, beating Chelsea and Morinho – he never won a game at VP, Jose. Whatever happened to him, anyway? A series of high scoring games towards the end of the season before last, culminating in an absolute shoeing of Small Heath. Marvellous.

This failure to really produce top form, consistently at home is something that produced an undercurrent of muttering about the style of play amongst a fair proportion of fans. Predictability (no “plan B”), inflexible selection and substitutions, over-playing players to the point of injury or exhaustion are all comments that have a degree of validity about them. But when all the talking has stopped, it’s undeniable that each season the team did better than the previous one. Villa had returned to the top quarter of English football.

This has been done at a fair old expense, both in terms of outlay on transfer fees and the overall wage bill. Randy has funded transfers to the tune of just short of £100 million, net, in the past 4 years.

With signings such as Ashley Young, James Milner and Richard Dunne, Martin showed an eye for picking players he could work with and improve and gel seamlessly into the side.
Other players, such as Martin Laursen, Gareth Barry, Freddie Bouma and Gabby also benefitted greatly from Martin’s influence.

Then there’s the case of Nigel Reo-Coker. He’s a player who I think has improved a deal under MO’N and his coaches. His passing is far better than in his first season here, the needless bookings eliminated, and the commitment on the pitch maintained…..But…..But he isn’t (or wasn’t) a regular. 8 million quid for a squad player. 

Luke Young an excellent right back, again expensive, but often left on the bench while a centre half plays right back. A quirk that has been apparent throughout MO’N’s time is the curiosity of playing the likes of Olly Mellberg, Craig Gardner and Carlos Cuellar at right back, rather than a “proper” full-back.

And the next category to look at is the one that contains Marlon Harewood, Nicky Shorey, Emille Heskey, Zat knight, Steve Sidwell and Habib Beye – players signed for sizeable fees and wages who bluntly are not good enough for a side challenging, or wanting to challenge for a top 4 place. The jury is out too on a few others – Stewart Downing has yet to show he’s worth 12 million quid, Curtis Davies started well, got injured and hasn’t threatened to recapture that first year’s form ever since.

In terms of “why did he go?” my take on things is that a combination of the real downer of going so close in the cups and to the top 4, but on each occasion falling short, through being outplayed, outspent, out thought or just through poor refereeing has taken a big toll on morale. Combine that with new found ability of Man City to just buy the Moon on a stick if they want, and the continuing presence of Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal in a class above and I think the will to keep going at it has ebbed away. Add in disappointment at not being given yet another 30 million to spend on players and the sensible need to keep wages in check and you have the loss of the vital spark that is a key part of MO’N’s persona.

I make absolutely clear that the past 4 years, for me, have been hugely enjoyable as a Villa fan, and for that definite thanks go to Martin O’Neill, SW and JR, plus of course Randy Lerner. Whatever we write or think about the ins and outs of it all, basically the purpose of football, for me at least is to provide enjoyment. And Martin’s teams did that; they restored a deal of pride to a very badly tarnished club.

So what next? The timing leaves a lot to be desired, to say the least. Kevin McDonald who has done superb work with the reserves will be in charge for the West Ham game, and I’d have no problem with him carrying on for longer, should he wish to do so, though I don’t want to see the reserve and youth pipeline broken to fix the first team.

This is now the first real test for Randy Lerner, though Martin O’Neill wouldn’t have come to Villa without Randy taking over, he was already on a short list of two, pretty much. This time, the choice is all Randy’s. Will he go for Jürgen Klinsmann this time? We’ll see.
 

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Seasons Change - Review of the 09/10 Season

 
It's been our best season for around a decade, the Club has continued to improve its' fortunes on the pitch, more work has been done on the facilities for supporters, the players have given their all, and we've had some trips to Wembley to boot. We've surpassed last season's points tally with a game still to go and yet....

And yet there's still a feeling about, among a wide swathe of supporters that ranges from unease to disappointment. There are of course a lot of happy people, very pleased with the season, but I think it's worth looking at the unease, disappointment and even anger to try and understand if it is justified?

Taking things at face value, from my perspective it's hard to agree, in fact impossible to agree, that anger is in any way justified - It's just a step too far. Disappointment that we came up just short, I do fully accept, but anger could only be valid if we'd failed in a major way to "have a go". At no point did this happen.

There have definitely been (with hindsight, and occasional foresight) a few occasions when mistakes were made. The selection for the first game against Wigan was the prime example - Most supporters I spoke with at and before the game felt the team selection was wrong, particularly in midfield. And so it turned out. Other instances occurred during March (again) when fatigue caught up with a few players - Downing, Warnock and a couple of others, but still they were picked ahead of others who might have done better. That's one of the lessons not fully learnt from last season. When players are either carrying injury, or are out on their legs - rest them. It doesn't mean wholesale rotation, the clamour for which has both baffled and irritated me, but it does mean taking a player out for a game, perhaps two to get their wind back and let the muscles and mind heal.

And there we have pretty much the full scale and scope of what has "gone wrong" that is self inflicted - Perhaps 3 or 4 games where the team clearly was not the right one for the game. Then again, there's not a manager in the country about whom similar accusations could not be made.

The happier side of things is that for every Wigan at home there's been a Man Utd away. We've yet again (walloping at Chelsea notwithstanding) improved our competitiveness against the top 4 sides. Gone are the times when we'd turn up and be thankful for a shoeing from a Sky 4 side, doffing our caps as they kicked our bottoms.

We've had good runs in the domestic cups and made a (thankfully from my angle) early exit from Europa drudgery. The Europa league is worth far less than the hassle it causes. The Cup runs have been a major highlight for me, we'd gone far too .long without so much as a sniff of Wembley.

There's been a season long debate about our style of play - is it too predictable? is it one dimensional? some people even say it's not entertaining. I'd give half a mark to the claim for predicability - but then I know how Arsenal or Stoke or Hull will play, too. The very best sides have the players in every position that can threaten from all angles and directions. We don't, but we do have players that are very good in several positions. As you go down the league, the number of these really good players, per squad, drops. It's players that make the difference, much more so than managers, or tactics, in my view. For me the way Villa play is entertaining when the players have the legs and confidence, but when tiredness sets in we can be not much more than doggedly determined to hang on to whatever we have.

I go to the game for the enjoyment. I can enjoy a game if we lose - as long as we try, and under Martin we always do. It's rare to see the team look like they don't believe, at any point in a game, that they can't get something from it. There's a great deal of mental strength and will and togetherness in the side, and that's down to MO'N.

From a personal perspective I've really enjoyed this season. I've loved it in parts - Blackburn at home, 6-4 was one of the great Villa Park nights, and the Cup win at Ewood was also memorable. I've loved swanning off down to Wembley twice. I loved, after years and years of going there every season, finally winning at Old Trafford, and deserving to, as well. I've loved sitting in the pub, talking things over, before and after games. There's been bery little to complain about in terms of the football - it's been another positive season. If it weren't for some iffy refereeing we might have had a trophy, too.

We're not good enough for the top 4, as it turns out. We draw too many at home. Mind you nor are Liverpool and my least favourite manager, Rafa. Ha ha. Good club, good fans, shame about the board and the manager. Sorry, schadenfreude is not a nice thing. It's the Barry saga that caused it.

Turns out though we haven't missed him. James Milner has been inspired and inspiring in his role in the middle of midfield. The Martin Laursen sized hole has been well filled by Collins and Dunne. 3 masterful pieces of player recruitment and management by MO'N.

Any concerns I have don't centre around players, or managers or the board, they centre around other things - ticket prices, players wages (the two are related) and re-arranged games for TV and Europe. These are the things that need sorting for me. More than 40 quid for a game of football is a scandal, frankly. With money pouring in from TV, the re-arranger of so many games. It's unacceptable to be charging people 43, 45, 48 quid to go to a game. Especially away fans, whether Villans or fans of other sides at VP. Add in travel costs, early or late journeys, a sclerotic road system and sometimes unreliable trains and....words fail me. The issue is one at Premier League level, rather than a Villa specific one - in fact we're one of the better clubs at trying to keep games affordable, though the odd decision on pricing has disappointed - For the Wolves at home, on TV, early on a Sunday, we should not have been charging up to 43 quid for a ticket.

With reasonable ticket pricing all the time, not just most of the time, we've would have one of the best set ups going - A great owner, committed and skilful players, an approach that tries to win every game, a charismatic manager, a good reserve and youth system, a passionate support that yearns for success and will out-sing anyone - the din at Wembley when behind against Chelsea was superb, and the sustained 90 minutes of bedlam in the Darwen end for the cup game was superb. We've also got in the background, people working for the club who genuinely care about giving supporters the best service they can, and they deserve a lot of thanks for their efforts.

In summary, each season we've done better than the last, lessons have been learnt, not every lesson, but most of them. So as much as ultimately ending with no tangible reward is disappointing, it shouldn't overshadow the further progress made all over the club.

A final wish is that while I'm distracted by the cricket and maybe even the world cup, I'd like Villa to act a bit quicker than has been the norm in the transfer market, reshape the squad and get ready to do what they've done every season under Martin and Randy - push on and improve. I've no idea if they'll succeed, but I know they'll try, and that's all you can ask.
 

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Stop and Think it Over - Man City Away Report

 
So, the last away game of the season, and an "eliminator" against Manchester City. The game started really well from Villa's perspective. But then....

It's been a long old season this one. One in which we've had one heck of a lot of "nearly" moments, but for various reasons have just come up short at the close.

Yesterday was another such nearly moment. The result - City winning - was fair. On the balance of the game, they deserved to win. However for the first 30 minutes it looked as though Villa would come through at the last. The ground was full, the sun shone (between clouds) and both sets of players set about their task with gusto. City perhaps the brighter to start with, but Villa looked supremely organised, Cuellar, who was magnificent all game, was keeping Bellamy quiet, and while Johnson looked dangerous, and Tevez mobile, we were coping. For Villa they all looked solid and capable - unfazed by the occasion or the task.

It was Villa who scored first - Downing putting Carew through and Big John slipped the ball under their borrowed keeper. This quietened the crowd, though to be fair unless the whole place is "at it" the Blue Camp isn't great for atmosphere. It's not the fans, it's the acoustics.

Once we'd gone in front, we spent a bit of time counter thrusting dangerously, and looked more likely to score a second, than they did to equalise. But then Warnock seemed magnetically determined to tackle Johnson right on the by-line, for some reason. He tried to, missed and Johnson went down. Daft penalty, daft tackle. Tevez hit it hard and straight and it went under Brad Friedel. Damn.

We went straight up the other end and Carew fair walloped the crossbar with a shot that bounced out, rather than in. City then came immediately back down the end we were defending, and again Johnson on the by-line made them a goal. With defenders all going to the ball, he just rolled it a few yards to Adebayor, who simply stepped back a pace and plonked it into the net from 6 yards. Defensive disorganisation, really, and smart movement from Adebayor.

That really was the end of the game to all intents and purposes. The second half was slightly cagey, with City mostly on top. Gabby, Ashley Young and Carew were not getting much change from their defence, and while we defended well enough, as we looked to push on for an equaliser, we were leaving gaps. Warnock went off injured, and Heskey and Delfouneso came on, with Carew also going off. The Fonz looked lively again, but really the service wasn't there. City scored on the break after Wright Phillips skipped past Collins, who missed his tackle then just stood and watched, the ball was played inside to Bellamy, and he scored into the top corner. Now there was a real noise in the ground, but it was too late for Villa to try and quieten it.

At the end the players came over and applauded us, we responded in kind.

My thought going into the game was that it would be academic anyway, as I was sure Spurs would beat Burnley and Bolton, whatever their result against City. Realistically 4th was already out of reach.

Some marks

Friedel - 6 - fine

Cuellar - 8 MotM (for Villa)
Dunne - 6
Collins - 6
Warnock - 5 (Fonz - 6)

Ash - 5
Stan - 6
James Milner - 6
Downing - 7

Carew 6 (Heskey 5)
Gabby 5

I don't think anyone could find fault with the efforts of any of the players, over the season, there's one or two who might be a bit more committed in the tackle, Stewart Downing. But overall the team has bettered last season's performances and results and we're still moving in the right direction, though progress gets harder the further you rise.

One game left, and I'd particularly like us to finish with a win, and above Liverpool. Then we'll need to have a long hard think about what to do next, and how to do it.
 

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Too Soon for Flowers - Bolton Away Report

 
Not a classic game, not even a good game. 

But that doesn't matter, and in my estimation it didn't matter to any of the Villans present. What mattered was that we won.

In a lifetime of strange weeks, this has been one of the strangest.

Obviously the previous one had contained an almighty gubbing, but what followed that had been quite extraordinary. A bit of a media storm regarding the future of the manager which had all apparently been started off by a poster on the messageboard saying his mate had told him MO'N had resigned, though he didn't believe it himself. It was an insight into the way the media works, and how the Club responds. First the media - they trawl the internet, using news now, for "stories" about Villa. If something pops up on their computer they publish it. Then they may get round to sort of checking whether it's actually true or not. Then the story becomes not the original thing they published, or broadcast, that they got off the internet, but the Club's reaction to the story. And all the while fans have their hopes and fears played with, Managers feel undermined and media officers run round trying to put the genie back in the bottle, or at least trying to understand where the genie came from and why, before trying to work out how they can stop the next one emerging.

Still, enough about nothing. It's football that matters.

A nice short train ride to the Reebok, a stroll to the pub and then some fine "Flat Cap" while watching Chelsea beat Manchester United in between talking about over-reaction, what team should he pick and what would the score be.

As it happened, the team selection was spot on for the game. James Milner got to have a rest on the bench, Ditto Luke Young. Carlos Cuellar was back in at Right Back, Fabian Delph into the centre and both Big John and Gabby were over their aches and pains up front. Downing was in for Sidwell.

After about 10 minutes of play, Villa pressing for a goal, we got one, and it was a beauty. Some decent interplay and close passing, and Ashley Young, who is right on form just now, cut inside on the left wing and curled a peach of a shot, right footed, into the top corner.

Bolton then had a spell of pressure, and Friedel saved well from a powerful shot, down by his near post, below me. That was pretty much his only real save of the afternoon, and to be fair, Jaskaleinen didn't have many to make either.

It was clear that Bolton, at the back, were terrified of the pace of Gabby and the trickery of Ashley Young, and this perhaps prevented their full backs and big centre halves from venturing up the pitch. They're a work in progress - not yet rid, completely of the "style" of Megson and Allardyce, and not yet fully adapted to the more pleasing play that Owen Coyle used at Burnley.

As for Villa, there was no sign of the fatigue that's been recently apparent and there was evidence of the defence regaining it's normal parsimony. James Collins and Richard Dunne headed everything away, Carlos sniffed out trouble and stopped it, and Stephen Warnock looked like he'd been fitted with new Duracells, working prodigiously up and down the left.

The game only really sparked into life near the end. Heskey, on for Carew was knocked flat, challenging for a header. The game stopped for a he'd injury. Eventually he woke up and was shown to the sideline. A drop ball. There was no "you give it to them" from the ref, like there sometimes is. Instead it was a genuine challenge between 2 players. Villa won it, the ball squirming through to Gabby, who promptly advanced on goal, but missed, his shot going 2 feet wide of the post. Bolton players and fans got the hump. They presumably felt that they should have been given the ball.

Bolton pressed for the equaliser, but at no stage did they look like getting it.

Villa broke a number of times, but as the game came towards the end, the breaks were towards the corner flag, rather than goal. From the last of them Downing ran the ball out wide, the ref blew and then tiny Jack Wilshire (8 1/2 ) wobbled his lip, stamped his little feet and pushed at Downing once the whistle had gone. He wanted to be allowed out to play some more, and it wasn't fair, he didn't want to go in for his tea. Downing didn't like being pushed by a smaller boy, and pushed him back. Then all the other children ran in, shouting "fight, fight, fight", but like other playgrounds, there wasn't actually a fight at all. The ref waved his magic yellow card at Downing and little Jack, and made them all go inside.

Fun over, the happy Villans trooped off to their cars, coaches and trains singing about Wembley. Then it started to rain. It still doesn't feel quite like Spring yet.

Some marks
Brad - 7. Very solid.

Carlos - 5 - defended soundly, not much going forwards.
James Collins - 5 - defended soundly, some iffy distribution, and one wild free kick.
Richard Dunne - also defended well - 6
Stephen Warnock - 6 - worked very hard, and played well.

Ashley Young - 7 - A wonderful goal and a constant threat. Fell over a bit too easily at times. I thought he'd stopped doing that.
Fabian Delph - 6 - Bright, and fitted in well with Stan. Improved since the start of the season. (Replaced by Sidwell, 5)
Stan - 6 and steady
Downing - 5 - Some good crosses.

Carew - 5 - Not massively involved. (Emile - 5)
Gabby - 6 - played well, held the ball up and should really have scored when clean through. Looked much fitter than last week, which is a good sign.
 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Black is the Colour - Chelsea Away Report

 
This was a game I wasn't originally going to go to, but the best laid plans of mice and men can sometimes not work out as you'd hope. My ticket was going to go to a friend, but in the end he couldn't make it, so I thought "why not?"

Yet another early start for a train down to that London. I'm not a train spotter, but seeing a huge steam locomotive at Preston station chugging away, full to it's many carriages with people about to breakfast in style while puffing their way up the West Coast did perk me up. My journey was on an equally packed Pendolino at presumably much higher speed, which did at least leave me time for several beers and a sausage sandwich in the "Oligarch & Congestion charge" Pub (I may have misremembered the detail, as MPs say) in Earls Court. Just as well really as a relaxed outlook was needed to deal with what was to follow. 

Unfortunately the shock of paying £48 blinking quid for a ticket was not the end of the day's surprises, as no doubt people will know by the time they read this. That said, I'd gone to the game expecting a heavy defeat.

Now that you've read this far, let me let you into a dirty secret. I enjoyed the game. I saw more positives than negatives. First of all, let's be fair Chelsea were excellent and clearly deserved to win by a distance. That said, I'm a Villa fan, so why the positive vibe after a gubbing? Well, despite the score, the thing is that all week I've been getting  electricity letters, portable telephone typings and Internet writings about how everything's wheels are unravelling. But they are not. I got to see with my own eyes that all is well ( ish).

Now I expect that only mental health professionals will still be reading this far in, so give me a chance to explain before carting me off to the electrode room.

We got beaten heavily by a very good, motivated, side. But despite that, at no point did Villa "lose it:. There were no hissy fits, no tantrums, we just lost. And we actually played quite well first half.

With the team being changed around a bit - Luke in at left back, Sidwell in the middle and Gabby restored there was some freshness and the ability to pass the ball down the right hand side. Though Gabby seemed to spend most of his time at right back, often behind Luke Young. He was stopping things, but his pace, I felt would be needed up front if we were to get anything out of the game.

Chelsea scored first, after about 15 mins. Lampard tapping in at the far post after Warnock got caught napping with a difficult ball to deal with, low across the box.

We deservedly equalised when sidwell then Ash did well and Big John had a simple finish from a delicious cross.

30 minutes gone, all square. It stayed that way until just before half time, when Collins brought down their full back for a "continental" penalty ( those ones where the defender doesn't get the ball, and the attacker goes down to "help" the ref make his decision). No complaints, we/they all do it. Lampard scored again.

Second half Villa stated brightly, but the seeds of our eventual undoing were there to see. Despite the general flow in the first 8 minutes or so being towards us Villa fans, Warnock nearly gifted them a bonus by passing straight to Anelka from a Chelsea clearance. As it was they opened us up with a sublime goal shortly afterwards. Deco the key man in making it.

That was game lost. What then followed was Chelsea with the confidence high, Villa out of it and with first Carew, then Stan, then Gabby all going off injured, or just knackered, and the team therefore rejigged & unable to cope with the pace and movement.

We ended up with Warnock in midfield, Ash at centre forward alongside Nathan D, Beye at right back, Luke at left back.....The defensive sloppiness and lack of ability to deal with the movement of Chelsea was clear to see.

Chelsea got another pen for 4-1 and eventually another 3.

We defended poorly as a team, the midfield was out manoeuvred and what threat we did manage was dealt with by Chelsea. But there was threat, from Ash, from Nathan and from James Milner. Unfortunately while our shots were blocked and deflected for corners, or players were brought down for free kicks from range, their attacks were not closed down the same.

We kept singing, MO'N sort of apologised with a gesture at the end of the game and then I legged it for the undertube back to the pub and train back north.

I'm typing this on a tiny iPod, being buffeted by the undulations of a Pendolino and to be honest if I wasn't then I'd have forgotten all about the game by now. I think that's the best tactic in the circs. 

It's not a cause for panic, it's just the way things go occasionally.

Some marks
Brad - 6
Luke - 6
James Collins - 4
Dunney - 5
Steve Warnock - 5

Ash - 7
Stan - 6
Siddy - 5
James Milner - 7
Gabby - 4

Carew - 6

Subs - Downing 6. Nathan 6. Beye 5

The important thing is not this game, it's the one for a chance to win the cup. Palace lost 9-0 at Anfield and then beat them in the FA Cup semi, famously, and we can do the same with Chelsea...If we learn some lessons.
 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Obstacle 1 - Wigan Away Report

 
A rearranged game at Springfield park, sorry the JJB, no I mean the DW Stadium. A chance to try and make up some of the gap between us and 3 others chasing 4th place - games in hand being all very well, but you've got to win the beggars for them to have any weight or meaning.

The original game having been postponed when Wigan's undersoil heating broke down in the depths of January's cold, the game took place last night in the relative warmth of an early spring evening, and on a newly laid pitch blanketing the delicate pipes below from any more of that nasty coldness you get round these parts.

You know the routine by now - train, (excellent) pub, a few pre match scoops and a chat. This time to see whether fellow travellers had thawed out from Saturday's game at Stoke and to be impressed by Bickster’s diligent preparation for a family flight to Singapore/Australia - Beers, pie, football (loved ones guarding the luggage in a hotel). Happy hols, you lucky sod.

We timed it well, leaving the pub at just the right moment, so that the walk to the ground was followed seamlessly by a pie and then taking our seats just in time to see the team come out. Despite talk of rotation and such like, we all know that such things are not Martin's way, so the team was barely changed from the one before and the one before that and....dot dot dot.
Gabby coming in for Emile was the only difference, and one that was welcomed universally.

In contrast to Saturday, the game started brightly and continued that way all through. Initially Wigan looked the sharpest and more of the play was in front of us, than down at the far end we were attacking. Soon though Villa started making positive moves, more than matching Wigan's endeavour - with Gabby and Ashley Young causing trouble down the channels and 
out wide and Milner looking determined to make sure none of the many new blades of grass would remain untouched by his boots. Both keepers had to make sprawling saves and players all over the field were involved in the game, trying to make things happen, or thwart opposition thrusts. James Collins was looking particularly good defensively, winning just about everything, and Richard Dunne was almost equally in control.

The first goal was a bit of a strange one. We got it, but I'm not quite sure how. From what I could see a cross was put in by Ash, there was a bit of to and from in the box, and then it seemed that a Wigan defender volleyed the ball into his own net, with Kirkland desperately trying to keep it out. I don't think anyone else in the Villa end had any better idea than I did what had happened.

Unfortunately we let them straight back into it. A free kick was given against Warnock for being clumped into by a Wigan player, and the delivery was excellent. Again, I'm not sure exactly what happened - whether the ball went straight in, or whether a Wigan player got a slight touch on it. It wasn't great defending or goalkeeping either way - if it went straight in, I wonder whether Brad might have got it, and if it was touched by the Wigan player, why was he unmarked?

Back to square 1.

Ashley Young had a good chance but missed, and when I say missed I mean he managed to kick the ball right out of the ground, which shows a) he hit it really hard, and B) it was somewhat misdirected. The environs of Springfield park no the JJB, sorry the DW Stadium were unimpressed and spat the ball back into the stadium, allowing the game to continue to half time.

The second half pretty much followed the pattern of the first - the game was even and open - the teams taking it in turns to attack, or have spells of pressure. It was enlivened even further by the involvement of the ref. He'd been having a fairly decent game, letting it flow where as much as possible, but it was like he started to think he had an audience - presumably he'd noticed after one set of fans or the other had disagreed with a decision, and he then gave the impression of starting to play up to the gallery. It may all have begun when he gave a ridiculous decision against James Milner in their box. He was penalised for jumping up in the air in an attempt to block a clearance. The Wigan defender did clear the ball, and in following through, lightly hit Milner. Milner went mildly Ape, Bennett thought about booking him for dissent, probably realised that either a) Milner was entirely innocent of any offence, or B) That Milner is (at the moment at least) like a better version of Steven Gerrard, and as it's against the law to penalise Gerrard, it must be so for Milner, too.

Just to prove point B) above, Milner lashed one in from 20 yards - a corner flapped at by Kirkland. a defender nodding not very clear, and James Milner's right boot tonked the ball back past the unsighted keeper and into the net. 2-1, half an hour or so left.

Wigan pressed, Villa pressed back but I don't recall either of the keeper's being forced into major saves, mostly moves either broke down, or shots were wide or straight at the ‘keepers.

Gabby and Big John were taken off, Sidwell and Emile were brought on. Sidwell did well, getting involved immediately and the extra body in midfield helped. Emile was less involved and to be honest less of a threat than either Carew or Gabby. Maybe this was the rotation that MO'N was on about. Whatever, it worked in that we saw the game out - Sidwell almost scoring right at the death from the same place he tonked one in last season. Stan was going potty at him for not holding on to the ball, but it mattered not and Carew and Gabby got an extra 10 minutes rest.

At the end, the players were clearly chuffed and clearly knackered - forced into their efforts by Wigan, who are lower in the table than they perhaps should be.

With a lift home from LV, with AJ and Jack (lucky charm) it was a fine evening out.

Some marks

Brad - 7 - Dependably cool and solid

Carlos - very good tonight - 8
James Collins - also very good - 8
Richard Dune - it's on the tin. 7
Stephen Warnock - tremendous effort, not at his best - 6

Ashley - 7
Stan - 7
James Milner - 8
Stewart Downing - 6 - he sometimes needs to be braver, not necessarily physically, but in terms of making things happen.

Carew - 6 (Sidwell 6)
Gabby - 6 (Emile 5)

The whole team worked really hard, defended well and though Wigan may feel hard done by, Villa just wanted it that bit more, and had a tad more quality.
 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Your Way - Stoke City Away Report

 
To be honest with you, 0-0 is pretty much all that there is to be said about this game, so if you're pressed for time, look away now.

The day started bright and sunny, on my walk to the station, but by the time I was on the train the clouds had taken away the thoughts of spring, and the wind had reminded me of the long cold winter.

Still, the journey went very smoothly indeed, one of those days where despite some of the decrepit trains still in use, the connections were all just right and I arrived in blustery Stoke with plenty of time on my hands. Deciding to take the advice of my beer guide, I headed for a pub in Newcastle. The beer was excellent, and the Stokies friendly enough. So much so that they let me on their bus from the pub to the game, once again giving me more time than I'd expected. After the obligatory fanzine purchase and a quick chat I entered the Britannia, reminded of last year's epic encounter.
Truth be told no part of the game lived up to that day, this time around. The strong wind, cold, and worn pitch saw to that, as did some fairly lamentable refereeing at times. The ref was undoubtedly a "homer" in my view. Still, that's what you get when you go to Stoke - the reputation of both their support and their spirited football sees to that.

Anyway, with Villa keeping the same team, again, as last week, and with Gabby only fit enough to sit on the bench it was a fair bet that the game would be played via set pieces, throws and all stop start.

What little there was to pick from a pretty unentertaining game was in the form of excellent defending by both sides, the cool of Stillian Petrov in midfield and, er, um, the green sawdust sprinkled about the concourses. Had they been warm, or had they actually not run out of food and drink, then I would have awarded the facilities "Man of the Match", but they simply were not able to raise their concretey standards above the level of the football outside. Plenty of solidity, but nothing to lift the spirits at all.

Moments of note on the pitch included a splendid tackle by James Collins, another by Dunne and superb blocks by Dunne and Warnock. Even Delilah seemed to put in only a token appearance, both sets of fans pretty much numbed by the lack of flair and the chill wind.

Things perked up for Villa when Gabby replaced John Carew, although most would have preferred Gab to come on for Emille, judging by the noise of disgruntlement from the 2900 of us in the away end.

That's pretty much all there is to say about the game. I guess a point is both about right given the way we played, and par for the course in terms of a chase for higher league placing.

Some marks
Brad Friedel - 7
Carlos - 7
JC - 7
Dunney - 7
Stephen Warnock - 6
The defence was solid and dealt with all the Delap missiles competently

Ashley Young - 6
Stan - 7.5 MotM
James Milner - 6
Stuart Downing - 5

Other than Stan, no one really managed to put their foot on the ball and make much happen.

Emille - 6
Big John - 6 (Gabby 7)

Not a memorable day for anyone, but there's plenty of those to come, I hope
 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Take me to the River - Fulham Away report

 
They come round faster than birthdays, important games these days. Today it was time to go down to Fulham, for one of the best away trips of each season.

An early start, with a 7:56 train from my northern lair, on a cold but clear morning. The train ride was mainly spent feeling a bit tired, reading the paper - there's not much good news about, just mendacious politicians, disasters and the fear of terror, so I looked forward to the pub and some cheery company. Happily all went well - the train was on time, the undertube engineering works on some other line and after a quick stroll along the river looking at the oarsmen and women straining their muscles whilst being shouted at by midgets with megaphones a sit down in the warm was in order. We supped some pretty decent ale, munched down some dinner and then trekked back over the bride across the park and into the way end.

Villa's side was the same as in midweek and we were kicking into the goal at the far end of the ground. Fulham started the brighter, but after the first 10 minutes the game settled down into a pattern of neither side being particularly dangerous, once Zamora had shot over. Villa, as the away side would have been the more content, and we began to control much of the possession. The thought came to me that maybe Arsene Wenger's daft comments had done us some extra good, as the ball was pretty much always played on the floor, and the team was patient in it's play. More so then on some occasions recently. Fulham too play a similar passing game, and it seemed to be Petrov and Murphy who were doing the "leading".

Writing this some hours later, I can't remember that many chances - Brad fumbled a deflected shot, but got to the loose ball first, Ashley Young shot just wide. I hoped for a Villa goal to reward our greater part of the play, and not long before half time it came. A cross from the right after a throw, and Gabby headed in. At first I thought it had been saved, but people leaping about beside me indicated we had scored. I have no idea who crossed the ball - maybe Ash or Petrov, but Gabby was pleased, and it was good to see him score after a few games without a goal. Not much later he got a peach of a goal for his second. The ball was passed to his feet on the corner of the box, he turned the defender really easily and curled a shot in, left footed, from the right hand corner of the box. 2-0 and half time.

The second half saw Fulham have more of the game, but truth be told, apart from a goal that was disallowed with about 15 minutes left, we were holding out well. Richard Dunne was superb, Luke young too, played well, defensively and Friedel didn't really have much to do. Villa had some half chances, too, but the game remained sporadic in it's moments of real quality play - often stuff broke down because of a poor final ball, or good defending.

It was heartening to see Ash back to his livewire best again, Gabby was bright, Heskey got the hump with something and was like pooh bear with head stuck in a jar of honey, getting himself booked with it.

Most of the players on both sides looked like they'd had a hard run of games, but it was Villa who had the better shape and confidence and desire to get something from the game.

After the match it was back to Euston, and a few more beers round the corner, before a late train back and a chat with the Blackburn Rovers officials and BBC Radio Ay Up commentator from their game at West Ham. Nice people.

All in all a good day out, an excellent result and continued hope for the games coming up. The ticket price at 40 quid was steep (read downright over-priced), but I doubt that anyone is going to care about that.

Some Marks

Brad - 7 - solid and reassuring

Carlos - 6 pretty decent again.
Luke - 7 - did well filling in for Stephen Warnock
Richard Dunne - 8 - towering
JC - 5 - The standard mark for a decent level of performance. Not a good as Dunney, but its' the partnership that works

Ash - 7 - very good
Stan - 7 - ditto, but looks to be carrying an injury
James Milner - 6 - worked hard, as ever, but possibly tired
Stewart Downing - 5 - Not at his best - another one looking like rest is needed

Gabby - 8 Motm (just)
Emille - 5 - good in parts, as they say. He's got some aggression back, which is nice to see.
 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Someone Almost There - Blackburn Rovers League Cup Semi Away Leg Report

 
It was a long time coming last night's match - both in terms of a wait for a semi final and of course the postponement of the original game a week or so ago.

We hoped that the the contrast between the fevered desire to get hold of tickets for the game by us lot and the indifference shown by the Rovers fans would be reflected in the performances of the two teams over this game and the return leg next week, and to an extent it was, for the first half at least.

Blackburn is pretty convenient for myself, LancsVillan and AJ, so the evening started with leaving work just a bit early, a short train trip to Blackburn and arrival in the Pub by 6. We met up with Paddy and other Villans taking the sensible decision to avoid the fizzy beer and massive queues in the Fernhurst and settle for decent ale and good service in a better pub. I could have happily stayed in the warm for longer, but who wants to miss a semi final?

A quick jaunt in a taxi from town and we arrived at Ewood, still bordered by heaps of snow and icy paving. It was pretty apparent that there had been no late take up of tickets by the locals, despite the tickets being very well priced at only £15. It's a shame, because you always hope a semi final will be played in a packed ground, but I guess the "rugged" style of Allardycian football and a rotten run of results has taken many Blackburn fans into the No-zone layer - that place all fans go from time to time, where even if you go to the games, you actually don't like your team, you become immune to the dire form and bad results and just deny that there's any hope, for fear of further disappointment and pain, and most don't bother at all.

The Villa sections of the ground were somewhat different - packed, noisy, and expectant. 5,325 of us were there (plus a few more sitting on their hands in the home seats). Had we been allowed more tickets, we'd have probably sold as many again.

The first half started with Villa defending the end we were gathered in and for maybe the first 5 minutes or so Blackburn came at us with their typical "pile it in" approach. David Dunn had a shot just wide and various corners and crosses were piled in to put Guzan under pressure We coped, but it wasn't pretty and it wasn't comfortable.

Soon though the exchanges of hopeful balls punted and bunted hither and thither settled down, and Villa began to pass the ball more accurately - Petrov and Milner getting a grip in the centre and starting to play it in to Emille, or pass out wide for Ashley Young and Stewart Downing to run at their full backs.  
Stan played a cracking pass to Heskey, unmarked in the area, but he turned the wrong way and the chance was gone. Ashley Young lashed a shot well over the bar and Villa had a spell of concerted pressure, forcing corners, having shots blocked and saved. It seemed likely that we would score, but when we did the goal didn't come as a result of the onslaught, but from a break away from our own area. Guzan rolling the ball out to the feet of Milner who just charged at the Blackburn half of the pitch, taking the ball to the edge of their box, rolling a neat pass out to Downing on the right, and running onto the return low cross to score excellently past Robinson.

Confidence lifted, Villa could and should have had more goals, perhaps. Blackburn got even worse. Gabby was booked for diving in the box, but various text messages from people watching at home, or in the pub said that it was a "definite pen" and the ref, Clattenburg, had got it wrong. There didn't seem to be much by the way of protest from Villa, though - or maybe the players are well disciplined in not dissenting.

Just as I was about to make my way down towards the shelter of the concourse for a bit of a warm up at half time, Villa looked to have scored again, but the "goal" was disallowed - I'm not sure if it didn't go in the net, or there was a foul, or what. Text messages said a Blackburn player hand-balled in the area, but the ref thought a Villa player had committed the offence. Personally I felt that Villa were unlucky not to have been more goals ahead even allowing for refereeing mistakes.

The second half was different - Blackburn actually tried, for a start and had more of the game than in the first. Presumably Big-boned Sam had thrown his bluetooth earpiece thingy, his chuddy and some choice cuts of Galootian swearing at his players at half time. Chastened his team upped their efforts, started passing to each other a bit more and from a corner at the far end one of them headed against the post. Not so long later an excellent Rovers move saw their forward lash the ball first time against the same post from 20 yards. That it didn't go in possibly spurred Villa to get a grip again, Sidwell was brought on for Heskey, who had done well and perhaps it disheartened Blackburn, too, because we started to get chances again, and control the ball a bit more like we had in the first half. Ashley Young tormented their left back on several occasions, without a goal resulting. He also got clean through, but shot wide. Gabby had a header from a corner very well saved by Robinson. Right at the end, Blackburn almost scored from a header at a corner, but their late flurry came to nought.

At the end of the game there was no celebration from the players, MO'N acknowledged the fans, but no tempting of fate. Quite right too. The result was just about fair, I guess, but one goal is not enough to guarantee anything. No one is bulletproof.

Some marks

Brad Guzan - 6 - Not called on to do any heroics, but was solid.

Carlos Cuéllar - 6 Right back is not his best position, presumably he played to counter Blackburn's height, as Luke Young was on the bench.
Steven Warnock - 6 - Solid and reliable
James Collins - 7 - The two centre-backs repelled the vast majority of Blackburn's pressure 
Richard Dunne - 7

Ashley Young - 7 - lively all night, might have scored.
James Milner - 8 - MoTM - Excellent yet again.
Stan Petrov - 7 - More good work from Stan. Used the ball well all night.
Stewart Downing - 7 - He looks completely fit and at home, now.

Emille Heskey - 7 - Held the ball up really well (sub Steve Sidwell - 6 - bolstered the midfield when we were under pressure )
Gabby - 7 - Booked, but apparently harshly so, always a threat.
 
 
blandy

2009 Away Match Reports

 
 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jiggery Pokery - Man Utd away report

 
I imagine Darren Fletcher's post match interview may have been along these lines

It was jiggery pokery, trickery, chokery,
how did they open us up,
Robbery, muggery,
Villa skull-duggery,
We never have any luck,
What a delivery,
I might as well have been,
marking a lumbering galoot
Jiggery Pokery who were these nobodies
making us look like buffoons


(with apologies to Neil Hannon)

Forgive the whimsy, reader, but it's been a while since I last saw us win at Old Trafford. 26 piggin' years in fact. And nearly as long since we beat the devils at home. So, definite cause for celebration then.

In those long years, mostly, Man United have deserved to win the games they've won against us. Not so much in the last couple of years, but overall they've larger had better players, more belief and any luck going they've probably deserved because they were looking for it, whereas Villa were fearful of them finding it.

Yesterday was different. The days building up to the game were different. Villans were openly suggesting we'd win, putting their money on it at the bookies, and instead of being sniggered at, or thought of as brave but daft, the rest of us tended to agree. I certainly did.

All this belief in the fans, was clearly shared by the players, and most certainly by Martin O'Neill, I'm sure. I mean it's come from him. He is the source of our strength on occasions like this. With Randy's backing he's built a team that can and does beat the TV sides. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool had already been beaten by Villa in the past 12 months. Only United remained to be victims of the revolution.

Anyway, onto the day and the game itself. The tea-time kick off meant a journey into Manchester and all the Christmas shoppers after lunch. Being a cold day I spurned the outdoor drinking and plastic glasses of the Oyster bar, and settled for a read of the paper and a chat in a warm boozer with proper beer as pre-match preparation.

The game started brightly for Villa, the same adventurous 4-4-2 as started against Hull last week took the game directly to United - we forced a corner from the kick off and for 5 minutes looked very bright and lively indeed. Then United had a spell, forcing us back, but the defending and covering was excellent, and though United looked good out wide, causing the two full backs some problems, their 4-5-1 left Rooney, only, in the middle and thus there was no real worry about conceding at this stage.

Villa then came back into the game Downing and Ash switching flanks and Gabby's pace being augmented by the more physical presence of Emile. Heskey didn't have the best of days in an attacking sense, but he worked manfully for the team.

After about 20 minutes, Warnock played the ball down the left flank to Gabby's feet. He held off Fletcher, turned the ball out wide to Ash. He shimmied to go outside, turned back in and whipped in a cross right onto the noggin of Gabby, who had lost his marker sprinting into the box. The near post header was perfect. Bedlam in the away end, belief re-inforced on the pitch, and it showed.

Villa's pressing of United all over the pitch almost brought another goal. Gabby robbed Fletcher, ran down the left channel and tried to square to the unmarked Ashley Young on the right side of the box, but Kuszczak got a finger to the cross and the danger was cleared.

From a Downing corner, Dunne got a clear header on goal, but the ball hit a defender standing on the line. Another corner from the same side saw Dunne head wide.

All this obvious threat to their esteem brought out the worst of Rooney. A disgraceful dive in the box was at least spotted by the Ref, who booked him. Giggs seemed to protest to the ref, but Rooney's body language tellingly showed he had cheated and been caught.

United pressed again, tremendous blocking by Warnock and Luke Young stopped efforts on goal, and Friedel had just one save to make - just grabbing a Carrick shot from the edge of the box at the second attempt.

Superb tackling from Dunne, leading the defence brilliantly, stopped Rooney.

Petrov was immense in midfield, and James Milner while not as effective as he was against Hull, nevertheless still played like 2 men - covering all of the pitch, running tackling, passing, shooting, heading.

What was clear at this point was that Villa were playing as a team, totally aware that we had what it took to score against United and to stop them from scoring.

For the second half, "little Michael Owen (ah, God bless him!)" came on for an ineffective United midfielder, and then Berbatov came on for their left winger, as United tried to play through the middle rather than down the wings.

The result of all this was that the area where they had looked most dangerous (out wide) they diminished, and the are where we were strongest defensively (through the  
middle) was more tested.

Again though, Friedel was not overly tested - he made a couple of good saves, one in particular from Berbatov, but mostly he continued to be brilliantly protected by his eager colleagues. Both Dunne and Cuellar were outstanding all game, not just for their commitment, but the intelligence of their play. When we won the ball back, we tried to play to feet, to keep the ball.

There were some moments of concern - I can remember Berbatov mising a volley, Rooney shooting straight at Friedel and a free kick given on the edge of our box, which had my heart in my mouth. But United are no longer able to call on the likes of Beckham or Ronaldo to turn threat into goals.

Villa broke out several times, but as the game went on, these breaks turned more into "head for the corner flag" than "head for goal".

Even so, Heskey miscued a shot from one break and Gabby failed to find Ash on another. Carew came on for Heskey, and in perhaps the ref's only real big error of the game, was hacked down with no free kick or booking given. Mostly the ref had just been of the "get on with it" attitude when players fell over at the slightest touch. Nice to see.

Warnock had to go off injured, Carlos moving to right back, Luke to left back and James Collins came on into the centre.

The ref added on only 3 minutes of "time added on for Ferguson" and Villa saw them out easily enough. Neither of those 2 things have often been said at Old Trafford.

More celebration at the final whistle and a happy journey home.

Some marks:

Friedel - 7. Calm and confident.

Luke Young - 7. Hurt in a collision in the second half, but happily recovered from what could have been a nasty blow.
Carlos Cuellar - 8 - Excellence is becoming the norm from Carlos.
Richard Dunne - 8 - Splendid leadership from the big man.
Stephen Warnock - 7 - Injured twice through throwing himself at the feet of a United player to make blocks. Replaced by James Collins - 7. Glad to see him back.

Downing - 7 - looking fitter by the minute, and a clever player to boot. Replaced by NRC - 5.
James Milner - 7 - Prodigious effort, His "3 shredded wheat" efforts are vital.
Stan Petrov - 8.5 Fantastic from Stan, today. Man of the Match.
Ashley Young - 7 - his perfect cross made the goal, and he was always a potential threat, as well as working his socks off to help out defending.

Gabby - 8 - splendid from Gabby. He's got the knack of scoring against top teams, and defenders are scared of him.
Emile - 7. Good work from Em today. Not much of a goal threat, he had one of those "Oh!" days, but he put in his shift. Subbed by Carew - 6, not so much in the game, as we were on the back foot when he came on.

I'm now off to read the papers and watch MoTD with a smile on my face.
 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Part Time Moral England - Burnley Away Report

 
Burnley's got a lot to be proud about right now. At the top of the town's list of course is their Football Club. Brought back to the nation's attention by the virtues of Owen Coyle, hard work and a pleasing willingness to play the right way.

In turn Burnley Football Club can be proud of its fans. They're a fine bunch to talk to and they generate a good atmosphere in the ground.

Of course even for a town on the up, the recession is having an effect and it was while Lancs Villan was pointing out to me the colour TVs in a local shop, as we walked to the pub, that I realised something was missing, something not quite right about the place. It wasn't the shape of the TVs - sort of rounded and square, as opposed to these fancy flat screen jobs you see in horrible out of town shopping centres - it was something else, but I wasn't sure what. On the short train journey eastwards from my west Lancashire home I hadn't noticed anything amiss. The train, gradually filling up with Claret and Blue clad folk from all parts, trundled happily enough past cottages, streams, hills, woods and sheds. The blades on Wind turbines gently meandered their circular paths. Everything looked fine.

We walked to the pub, and everything seemed OK. We drank beer, ate pie and peas, drank some more beer, chatted to people and eventually left for the ground. It was at this point I realised what had been missing - the weather hadn't been turned on. I was alerted to this fact by the rain that began gently falling from the sky, as if the young lad at the Town hall had overslept and only just that minute turned on the big lever that starts up the weather generator. Fortunately we made it into the ground before the machine had built up any head of steam.

The ground itself sits just on the edge of the town centre and has changed since the last visit, for a league cup tie 5 years ago, only in as much as a dividing wall has been built half way across the inside of the away end, so that it is now half filled with home fans. The concourse is still way too small, the "facilities" utterly inadequate for the number of people and the seats in the stand are the old wooden type, with adequate legroom - clearly not of recent vintage, but all the better for it.

Taking my seat I noticed that the flag atop the stand to my left was doing it's best just to hold onto it's pole. I also noticed the rain teeming down onto the floodlit pitch. Clearly the weather machine was operating at full efficiency, now.

Burnley started the brighter and after less than 10 minutes got themselves in front. A free kick knocked in from their left wing position landing on the bonce of their Captain, beating Dunne and the out-rushing Friedel, who perhaps might have been better staying on his line. The ball plopped into the net.

With the wind behind them Burnley were much the better side. Because of the conditions neither side was making a lot of chances, but most of the efforts on goal were coming from Burnley. They were playing more as a team. It was noticeable that Carew wasn't getting into the game at all. Gabby was looking good, but without much service. It was mostly Villa chasing and harrying. Things did pick up when their keeper rushed out of his goal to try to get to a ball through before Gabby, but failed. Gabby pulled back for Ashley Young to try to loft it into a semi-unguarded net, but his effort from 30 yards went just over. Mostly though it was Friedel, roundly jeered everytime he touched the ball, who was the busier. He dealt comfortably enough with the long range efforts that Burnley attempted. The ref booked Sidwell and Cuellar for tackles and half time arrived with Burnley having been pretty comfortable for most of the half.

The second half was better for Villa. Carew started getting into the game a bit more, we gradually got hold of possession and started to test the Burnley defensive strengths. As had been the case in the first half, the pressure on the goal in front of me was mostly from free kicks and corners and the odd long range shot, rather than clear cut chances. Gabby came very close to scoring from the best opportunity so far, when he was put through one on one, but Jensen just tipped his shot past the post. Jordan nicked in to steal the ball from Milner, I think it was as he was almost through, too.

MO'N decided to change things round a bit - Heskey coming on for Luke Young and Stewart Downing coming on for Sidwell, with Ashley Young moving more central. I felt we would score, as Villa were dominating the play in seeking the equaliser, but then again, though Burnley were not breaking effectively, due to misplaced passes it would only take one to go right and we could have been beaten. Friedel did save one long range effort extremely well.

Happily Villa did equalise, Downing took a corner in a spell of Villa pressure, the keeper punched away, rather than catching the ball and Milner lofted the ball back to the far post, where Emille Heskey outleapt his marker and headed in easily enough.

There were still maybe 7 or 8 minutes of play left at that point, and though Villa tried, lifted by the goal, they couldn't manage to force a winner that truth be told would have been undeserved.

I hugely enjoyed the day out. I like Burnley, perhaps for their Claret and Blue kit, perhaps because the fans were, to a man and woman, good company, perhaps because the ground is a bit of a reminder of how things used to be 20 years ago, before Sky and Identikit Super Stadia. Even the game was a bit of a throwback - influenced by the weather and the hard endeavour of both sets of players. Nobody dived, no cheating handballs, no dirty fouls, pretty well ref'ed overall. Right as rain, in fact.

Some marks for the players:

Friedel - 6. Maybe slightly at fault for the goal, but otherwise sound, as ever.

Luke Young - 6. Pretty quiet attacking wise. Replaced by Emille Heskey who did well from his first touch to the end of the game. Well played big man.
Cuellar - 7. Excellent again in the middle. MotM for Villa.
Dunne - 6. Didn't let the disappointment from the week affect his game at all.
Warnock - 6. Not jeered like Friedel, also pretty quiet attacking wise.

Milner - 6. Crossed for the goal, ran his socks off, as he always does.
Petrov - 6. In the first half he was one of the few who played well. Keeps things ticking along nicely.
Sidwell - 5. Almost managed to get on the end of a cross early in the second half. He works dilligently, but for me I'd like his to have more of an impact when we've got the ball. Replaced by Downing who slotted in nicely after his long lay off.
Ashley Young - 6. Might have scored in the first half, but was fairly well controlled by the Burnley defence.

Gabby - 7. Looked fit and hungry and was by far the more effective and dangerous forward.
Carew - 5. Not really good enough today, from big John. He defines hot and cold.
 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bark At The Moon - Everton Away Report

 
The third in a sequence of 4 away games in 10 days ended up like the previous 2 - scores level, and fairly so.

This game at least was at the rather novel time of 3 pm on a Saturday. Marvellous.

Following the traditional pre-match beers with Bickster in a most estimable liverpool boozer, we got the taxi up to the ground and settled into our seats. Villa made a change with Emille Heskey in for Big John from the start, but otherwise the team was the familiar line up. Everton's side was missing a fair few regulars, but they still have a decent enough squad to put a good side out. They certainly started the brighter, having, for the first 15 minutes or so the majority of possession and pinning Villa back. With our passing again not so hot, we weren't really able to get into the game in the early part. But Everton's early storm waned and Villa then had a period where we were much more in the game. Neither side really, though, troubled their opponents' keeper too much.

There were a couple of harsh bookings for Warnock - who cleanly won the ball, and Cuellar who tried to get out of the way of the Everton player. Other than that, there wasn't a great deal to report. Signs of Ashley Young regaining some form and the usual excellent defending from Villa apart. Until 45 minutes and 47 seconds when Everton got a decent goal - an attack down their right, a cross held up by Yakubu, and knocked back for their unpronounceable full-back to hit past Friedel off the post.

At half time the limping James Milner, who had looked a bit knackered anyway, went off and Big John came on, with Gabby taking up the wide right position.

It worked immediately. Nice play by Heskey, Ashley and Warnock saw the cross played in low, Gabby shot, the keeper saved, but Carew tapped in the rebound. All square and game on.

Villa were better in the second half - at times in the first I was wondering why exactly I do pay so much to go around watching them play - few tricks and little in the way of treats - but the second half reminded me why. Without ever being on top, we were certainly having a good go, as were Everton, I suppose. Petrov had a powerful shot deflected just over, and there were a few close things at both ends.

The game heated up first when Cahill chopped down Ashley Young, then again when [insert name of unpronouceable full back] lunged in on Petrov and was sent off for serious foul play. The Everton crowd roared their disapproval, but given the way the ref had given out some soft bookings to Villa earlier on, they didn't really have much to complain about. I did worry that he'd jump at a chance to even it up and send one of ours off, and Cuellar who had had an excellent game gave him the chance with a missed tackle over on the far side. Normally I doubt it would have been a booking, certainly not for a player already harshly booked, but anyway, off he went.

Finally, in a decent atmosphere, the two teams had a last go at trying to win it. Stan, clearly still suffering from the two-footed horror lunge of that full back chappy, was replaced by NRC at the same time as the sending off of Carlos Cuellar.

The (almost) full moon put in an appearance, the floodlights had the players casting shadows, but there was no spooky recurrence of the last minute nail in the coffin we saw a year ago, though there was 4 minutes of injury time.

Fans and players applauded each other at the end of the game, as seems to be the way these days - and nice to see it is too.

Some Marks.

Brad - 6 - not much to do, truth be told.

Carlos - 7 - would have been more if he'd managed to stay on the pitch. Played well, though.
Dunne & Collins - 7. James Collins was perhaps the pick of the two, but they're a top pair.
Steven Warnock - 7 - He's looking a really good player.

Milner - 5 - looked a bit tired, unsurprisingly, and went off injured at half time.
Stan - 7 - excellent
Steve Sidwell - 5 - industrious, but I think we need more from him.
Ashley Young - 6 - a welcome improvement from Ash. He played with more confidence and did less moaning than recently.

Emille Heskey - 6 - He plays for the team and held the ball up well. I just wish sometimes, he'd really say to himself "I'm having that ball" rather than just closing a player down without actually committing himself to get the damned thing.
Gabby - 6 - worked hard and used his pace well.

Sub Carew - 6 - had his shirt pulled in a tussle out wide, somehow got the foul given against him and got booked for kicking the ball away. It's noticeable how often he gets fouled, but gets nothing given his way. No wonder it drives him mad. Took his goal easily enough.

NRC - only on for a few minutes.
 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Four seasons in one day - Wolves Away Report

 
Another bleary eyed trek to the local station while the more sensible remainder of the world snoozed comfortably on in the land of nod. It can only mean yet another early o'clock kick off time in association with Sky blasted telly.
After the train journey down I managed to inveigle my way into a very decent "No Away Supporters" boozer for some breakfast sustenance, to give me that Golden Glow. From the pub it was just a short walk to the ground and my seat in the Lower Steve Bull Stand. Pre match there was a touching tribute to the sadly lost Paul Birch and then it was on with the game.

Almost immediately Gabby was clean through, but weakly rolled the ball straight at Hennesey. Wolves, after that early fortune, then set about making sure that they were first to every ball and that Villa didn't settle.

With the same starting team as last week Villa were getting over-powered through the middle and Carew was getting overwrought at the way he was being penalised for every 50-50 tussle with his marker. Despite Wolves greater purpose they weren't really that much of a threat. Neither keeper was much troubled by the results of all the scuffling going on in front of them. There were throws into the box, balls into the box, fouls and tackles, but nothing actually happened.

I felt secure in the solidity of our defence, disappointed by the lack of creativity or quality in much of our play and frustrated by the form of several players. Ash is somewhat off the boil, Siddy was not tying up in any meaningful way with either Stan or the rest of the team. The effort was there from all of them, but no cohesion. And then it rained on us.

At half time the sun came out and happily it remained out for the rest of the game, I feel i was equally indignant at the whole early start to proceedings and simply deigned that it would turn up at its own time, thank you very much, not that of the cursed broadcaster.

The second half saw MO'N change things. We went 4-5-1 with Milner moving to the centre, Gabby to wide right and big John being the target. It worked. Villa got a reasonable hold of the game, Wolves lost any sense of threat and it was really only some incompetent officiating that was holding us up. Milner, Warnock and at last Ashley, were putting good balls into the box from wide, though to be fair Wolves defended well.

With about 15 or 20 minutes left MO'N swapped Emille on for Carew and that worked too. He profited from good midfield play, got away down the right and crossed low into the centre where Gabby held off and turned his marker before scuffling the ball into the net. Unfortunately the Wolves managed to regroup and pretty quickly were given a penalty for a tackle by Sidwell. I was surprised it was given, but admit my view from right on the halfway line, low down was far from ideal. It was scored well and the Wolves fans started to make some proper noise. Duly inspired, their team regained the momentum and spent the remaining 10 minutes of the game pressing for a win. Villa held out fairly comfortably, but it wasn't pretty.

I don't like these early kick off games, I doubt anyone does, other than some bean counter at Sky. I can't imagine players like them because you rarely see a cracking performance from anyone. So honours fairly shared, Wolves now have a couple of solid results against Everton and ourselves and Villa continue a solid start to the season. That was it, really. Solid, unspectacular and so I went back to the pub.

Some marks
Brad - 7 good.
Carlos - 7 a pretty good performance
Stephen Warnock - 7 also good, got booked for eventually losing his cool with the idiot linesman
Dunne & Collins- 7 each. Dunne looked shaky early on, but recovered. Collins just looks a very good buy.
Milner - 7 invaluable, the inheritor of the secret of perpetual motion .
Stan - 6
Sidwell - 4. Things didn't go right for him, after last week's excellent work.
Ash - 5. Like the post office, his delivery is off at the moment
Carew - 5
Gabby - 8 MotM for Villa because he was the one constant threat

Sub Emille was not on for long but did well for the goal.
 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Throwing Bones - Blackburn Away Report

 
As Summer fades and Autumn approaches, time once again to make the short trek to Ewood for my local game against Blackburn.

What ensued wasn't at all encouraging for the long nights ahead.

The day started well enough with a short train ride to Blackburn, a pint of proper beer and a corned beef butty in a proper pub, and then a taxi to meet Drat and Chris at the Fernhurst, where more beer was consumed, and tales of Elephants in Nairobi and drudgery in Chelmsford were exchanged.
We saw one Villa fan have a near miss, when he walked behind a Police horse at just the wrong moment - the horse was perhaps passing advanced judgement on the game to come later. Happily the Villan in question avoided the yellow jet of the Horse's scathing verdict.

Anyway, on entering the ground and clambering up to the top tier, for our over-priced £35 seats we were in place to see the Villa make a fine start to the game. Barely 2 minutes gone and Big John flicked on, Gabby was clean through, and his scuffed shot trickled into the corner of Robinson's net down the far end. Excellent.

The team was pretty similar to last week's, but with Fabian Delph in for Sidwell, and NRC back on the bench, after his time on the naughty boy step.

For the next 20 minutes or so, Villa looked comfortable enough, without really excelling. Delph showed some nice touches, Milner was involved a lot and we were on top, but gradually Blackburn, with their big bones style started to exert some pressure, and defenders had to block and tackle - Steven Warnock in particular made one fine last ditch block.

We had some chanes, or half chances on the break, but nothing really to trouble Robinson. And then a cock up in the VIlla defence. A corner not properly cleared, Blackburn chipping the ball back into the box, it bounced, bounced high, but Friedel didn't come and neither Collins nor Dunne dealt with it and in popped the giant Samba to tonk the ball into the net from about 7 yards. Messy.

The second half was poor, very poor. Delph was soon replaced by Heskey, for some reason - perhaps for fear of Blackburns high balls into the box, which we weren't dealing with comfortably at all - but the resulting shake up with Milner going into the middle, Heskey to the left and Ash to the right didn't make us any better where we lacked in terms of control. Too often Stan was left isolated in the middle with players all running away from him. Ash was quiet, Gabby not particularly involved and we tended to lump the ball a bit towards Carew, for him to flick on hopefully. It was tedious and predicatable, and easily dealt with by the Rovers.

They were equally tedious and predictable - very similar to how Bolton used to be - hard working, big boned, hard in the tackle and in the ref's face a lot.

One of their players was sent off for a second yellow and no-one could argue - he chopped down Milner with a late tackle for his sending off.

You couldn't tell, though that Blackburn had a man less. Villa were not looking in the mood to make the advantage tell, and there was a real lack of quality in too much of the play.

In these circumstances there's always the risk of a mistake costing us, and so it did - a ball into our box, bouncing again and Dunne, I think it was, though it may have been Collins, seemed to misjudge the bounce and then handle the ball under pressure. Penalty, easily tucked away with maybe 2 minutes plus stoppage time of another 4 minutes to go. We didn't look like pulling the score back, and deservedly lost, not so much because Blackburn were better, but because Villa were so inept and so brain dead at times.

The pick of our players was probably James Milner, but to be frank none of them played all that well, the team lacks guile in midfield, and seemed to have just two tactics - hit it up in the air for big John, or knock it wide and hope, to quote an old cartoon, "[and then a miracle happens]".

I fear for our prospects based on recent performances - not so much because of the results, but because the team is lacking cohesion and imagination. We're solid, hard working, effective at times, but there's little entertainment or vision to my eyes at least.

This might all seem overly negative, and perhaps it is. There are causes for hope - Gabby scoring regularly, the talents of Ash and Milner, and Delph has definite promise, while the rest of the team is "solid", but I do feel that unless someone has a special game, up front, we're very much looking a mid table side in the way we play and perform.

Some marks, for fans of inaccurate assessment:-

Friedel - 6 - one excellent save in the second half

Carlos - 5 - looked like a centre half out of position
Collins - 5
Dunne - 5 - both he and Collins looked more discomfited that in previous games.
Warnock - 6

Milner - 7 and MotM for Villa
Stan - 6 - needed more help, especially when Delph was taken off
Delph - 6 - some promising play, but looks a bit lightweight, unsurprisingly given his age
Ash - 5 - not on song today

John Carew - 5
Gabby - 6

Sub Emille Heskey - came on, fell over, people laughed (Blackburn fans, that is) - he's not settled at all at VP, and the substitution didn't work out for MO'N.

Some work needed on patterns of play and such like, I'd say, in the week.

One last comment - ticket prices - this is starting to really hack me off now. £35 quid for this one, £38 for Wolves, £48 for small heath and so on. Even tickets at Villa are expensive, now, for much of the ground. It's too much, too many games are moved for TV and clubs are stretching loyalty to breaking point.

I know they "have" to do it, because of players' wages, because fans demand signings and all the rest, but dear me, I just can't square up what we get with what we pay.
 

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sentimental Man - Gareth Barry, adios.

 
What to make of GB's departure to Man City?

Firstly the pros and cons.

My view is that the timing (and the money for all concerned) is right, not just in terms of it being early in the window, leaving plenty of time for a replacement(s) to be found, but also in terms of both the career of GB and the evolution of the Villa side.

Along with Martin Laursen, Gareth was a class act at Villa. He was for a long time the only class act at the club, though in recent times, Ashley Young, Laursen, Mellberg at his best and maybe Stan Petrov have all added to the mix. His are big boots to fill. But at the same time, Villa had become kind of set in their way of playing, and this perhaps contributed to teams "working us out" and led to our recent poor run.

I also feel that's Gareth's statement that he was worried about becoming stale (read "has never known anything but Villa") is a very pertinent factor. It can't fail to have an effect, all the chats with players from other clubs, at England squad meetings, in terms of wanting to see and experience life more widely than at Villa. This would lead to stagnation and a loss of drive, I feel, once you feel you've accomplished all you can envisage at one club.

For City, he is exactly the type of player they lacked last season - they had plenty of attacking verve, especially at home, but sorely lacked any stabilising calm away from home. They were very much all or nothing. With GB there, I feel they will fare much better due to his use of the ball, his nous of where to be when the ball is with the othr side, or other players in his own team - he often seems to be a move or so ahead of other players.

So with money to burn, City did the deal properly and neatly, unlike that clown Benitez last summer.

Villa get a very good fee for a player with just 1 year left, and just 6 months till he could have started talking to other clubs about a free transfer. And once that happens, the mind is completely gone and players get unsettled.

The reaction from fans has tended to split 2 ways, with no middle ground.

Some have said "greedy judas" and others "he deserves the chance to move, the time is right, let's get on with life". I'm in the second camp.

I guess, sadly, he'll get abuse when he comes back. It's the way of these things. It doesn't always happen like that, but mostly it does. And there's no logical way you can work out what will happen - the grounds for the abuse/cheer decision are complex and often wildly illogical.

Some players such as Paul McGrath, Sid, Brian Little...will always, always be lauded. Others, like Southgate always jeered by some. There is no logic, because much of what happens is based on sentiment. Whether that be sentiment as sympathy, if that's the right word, or sentiment because the player was a winner, or because they were unarguably in a league of their own, or sentiment because they've gone somewhere "unapproved of" by the fans. Go abroad, and you'll probably stand a better chance of a good reception, go to a club who are "hated" and you'll get loads - Yorkie to Man U springs to mind.

There's also the "spurned" feeling that comes into it. "He spurned our affections" - even when the affection is not actually spurned, there's no shrift given to genuine words uttered at the time of the move, such as those in his letter.

Olof showed the best way to leave, perhaps. Go abroad, generously thank the fans - I've proudly got the shirt he gave me on the wall. It helped that he was a fine player, too, with a disdain for small heath.

It's also true that so many players move, or are moved, that pretty much all scenarios have been acted out many times before. There's an established ritual to be gone through - media phone ins, local paper letters pages and the like practically beg for the more excitable responses from fans - whether that be the tearful kids (or men and women if you 're in Newcastle) or the foaming rage of the caricature supporters the media lazily resorts to.

In the case of "club's best player moves to rivals" then there will nearly always be strong antipathy, no matter whether the jeerers would have done the same thing, had they a chance to do so. But we fans don't get the chance. Fans and players are different beasts entirely. Employees and spectators are so different in so many respects. I fear Gareth is going to cop for this "crime"

What I can say is that, for me, while GB was at Villa he did himself and the club proud for the vast majority of the time here. The odd youthful indiscretion apart, the odd willful war with a manager over style of play and some very ill advised foot stamping last summer, aside.

As you'd expect, he learnt from all of those things. A sign of his game and personality has always been to learn new roles, new approaches, and always on his terms.

Perhaps by chance he stayed when he might have left just before MO'N came in 3 years ago. We both benefitted from that piece of luck. He got his career re-invigorated on the back of the hyper enthusiastic clean broom, and Villa got him playing in a way that got the team really flying.

Villa will, of course, move on, whether up, down, or sideways, but squads continually evolve - changing for one reason or another all the time. To think that anything in football is permanent is a mistake.

I can't say that after watching him all these seasons that my reservoir of feeling about Gareth Barry is anything than hugely in the plus side, and for that reason I won't be one of the ones who will give him stick next time our paths cross. 

He says he'll always look for Villa's results first, and I'll certainly be watching his progress with interest. 

Cracking player, and by all accounts a good egg. He did Villa proud, overall. That's got to be worth something in the sentiment stakes, surely.

I hope in the years to come you appreciate the fortune you had in playing for and Captaining Aston Villa Football club and that you remember us with pride and affection, and I hope too that we can feel the same affection towards your time here.

Good luck fella.
 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

North Sound Off - Bolton Away Report

 
Not a great game today at the Reebok. it was a case of one team pretty much aiming at getting a point, to ensure they live to fight another year, and the other team, Villa, sort of not wanting to lose, but not being good enough, or motivated enough, or coherent enough to win. So a fair result in the end.

It's a far cry from the earlier season away games, where a vibrantly attacking Villa side with pace and power were on such a roll. Today was pretty evenly matched, no one standing out, no one looking that good, or that bad, though a few didn't impress.

It seems Villa have settled for the fact that they won't get in the top 4, Europa League is all but assured, so there's really only the fear of a rollocking from MO'N and from the fans to play for.

We missed some pace today - with JC and Emille being Boltonesque in their styles both sides had a similar approach in many ways. Sure we had wingers in Ash and Jimmy, but neither lit the game up. Cahill for Bolton, Zat for Villa mainly did the heading away and clearing and the other players fought for some kind of ascendancy, with none really mastering it for long. Petrov for a while, GB, too for a (different) while looked classy, but then Bolton would have a spell.

At the back CUrtis was a mixture of good play and skittishness - the confidence isn't really there at the moment. Nicky Shorey looked comfortable, despite Bolton's tactic of putting Davies up against him, aerially. Brad was fine, Emille disappointed - not seeming quite sure as to what his role was supposed to be - playing behind Carew, he seemed a bit out of place. In the first half I felt he worked intelligently, but as the game wore on, he became a bit ragged in his play.

So basically it wasn't a great game. We scored just before half time, a cross from Ashley Young possibly just touched by Carew, but more likely just avoiding all efforts to touch it, and creeping in at the far post, down the far end.

The second half saw Villa start brighter, a tad more confidence in their veins, but then a poor challenge for a header from a free kick, and an unmarked Trotter on the penalty spot lashed through Friedel.

Half chances and efforts at both ends, much labour, some occasionally fussy refereeing and linesmanship, though the ref was OK and may well turn out to be a good 'un loger term - he looked new to me.

Villa fans were there in good number, Bolton fans weren't. The sun shone, then it rained, then the sun shone again.

Nearly over now. It's like everyone's just waiting for it to stop.

Some marks

Brad - 7 - confident

Carlos at RB - 6 - solid
Zat - 7
Curtis - 5
Nicky Shorey - 6 - fits in now. Comfortable.

Jimmy Milner - 5 - not much end product, but good work-rate (as ever)
Stan - 6
GB - 6
Ash - 6 - end product again, lacking.

Emille - 5 (nathan 5)
JC - 6

MO'N and GB applauded the support at the end, whatever that means.
 

Monday, April 06, 2009

Little Fluffy Clouds - Man Utd away report

 
An interesting day in Manchester. On the train on the way, whilst gazing out of the window, up at some really rather fetching clouds - very white, and backlit against a grey black bank of higher cloud by the spring sunshine, I was contemplating exatly what to make of Villa's recent run of results and form. Trying to understand why things have taken such a downwards turn.

Certain factors are fairly obvious - Martin Laursen, who didn't miss a game last season has been absent for a lengthy period, and none of the other centre backs has the same authority. The changing personnel in the back line has demonstrably also led to a lack of understanding, as well as individual mistakes. Another obvious factor is that with Carew having been injured, Gabby's goals dried up, and Emille Heskey has never been a prolific scorer.

Add in the season long absence of another ever present from last season, Freddie Bouma, and the switching around of defenders to try to cover for his absence - Luke Young out of position at Left Back, Nicky Shorey not settling in.

Then again, some of these problems were present whilst the team was on the excellent run of results over the end of last year and the start of this.

So what else? Fatigue? Sheer number of games played by the majority of the players leading to a loss of mental edge and peak physical fitnes. I guess so, though I'm no expert on these matters.

I was mulling all this over in an attempt to try and identify what was causing the problem, so I could work out an opinion on what ought to be done to a) resolve it and B) make sure it doesn't happen again.

Things like the factlet re not winning a game in March for each of MO'N's 3 seasons at Villa point to perhaps deeper issues than just injury and form.

What I do believe is that players should play in their best positions as often as possible - moving players around should really only be done in an emergency, not as a long term thing. Adaptibility is a real virtue, but shouldn't be over-relied upon.

So while for example, Luke Young going to left back for a game or two, as Shorey was off form is fine, in the longer term it creates as many problems as it solves, because there is no-one available as a proper back up right back. For a game or two, again, OK, but to ask NRC, Carlos Cuellar, Craig Gardner or anyone else to perform at the level required of a top level right back for game after game is asking rather more than is likely to be achievable. Particularly when it also makes a mess of the centre of the defence, ever changing pairs.

There are many advantages to a tight knit (smallish) squad, but these advantages can become disadvantages over time - complacency due to lack of competition for places can evolve from everyone playing regularly together. An injury in one position means 3 or players changing round.

Fortunately at this point the train got to Manchester and I went for some food and beer.

Some time later I made it into the ground, took up my over-priced seat position and watched a really entertaining game of football. Writing this long after the final whistle has gone, and if anyone reads it, you too will know the score, will have seen the goals and highlights on the box - anyway, the impressions I took from the game were pretty optimistic. Yes we gave away a daft first goal - Milner mainly, and Friedel slightly to blame for getting themselves in a mess. That Villa had been much the better side up to that point was galling. The goal also saw the first instance of many of refereeing incompetence on the day. Though not related to the goal as such, as the players were lining up the wall and so on, ref Riley decided Milner was too close and booked him. Milner returned to the identical position he had previously been in with no action taken. Meanwhile Ashley Young was closer to the ball and...sigh...he's just no good, Riley.

Happily, Villa didn't go to bits as they had at Anfield, but kept attacking United, and some superb play by Barry followed by Carew easily beating the defender saw us deservedly level.

At half time we were thinking that this was as well as we've played at Old Trafford for a good while, and that united were looking, with the odd exception (Giggs, Evans) pretty rubbish (by their standards).

The second half saw the pattern continue - United couldn't cope with Carew, and when he crossed, again our man, Gabby this time, beat the defender and nodded in.

Further incompetence from the officials saw definitely 2 and maybe 3 occasions when Villa got clean through - Gabby and Ashley - being pulled back for offside, or the ref not allowing advantage and so on. A third goal and we'd have definitely won.

As it was though, United got the next goal, Ronaldo again, somehow squeezing a shot into the corner, down the far end. Possibly it had been coming, as their pressure was building, but equally, Villa might have scored on the counter and got out of sight.

You know what is going to happen next in this type of situation at Old Trafford 2-2 and a few minutes left - the ref will add on a lot of "time added on for Ferguson", the crowd will pressure the lino and ref, as will the Red team players, and Villa will do really well not to wilt.

They scored with maybe a minute of the 5 minutes added on, left.

Game over.

For once Old Trafford really did have a good noise from the home fans, as obviously it would under the circs.

Despite the harsh result, Villa had played pretty well. We are scoring goals again, and defended pretty well for the most part, first goal aside. So yes another defeat, but really plenty of signs of hope. They pretty much all played well, they played as a team and looked a threat, as well as looking likely on occasion to concede. Which is pretty much what Villa have been like for most of the time MO'N has been in charge. There isn't a great deal "wrong", but there is a great deal of improvement to do in order to compete with the Champions league teams.

When, as on Sunday, United have 4 of their big name players missing, Villa are a match for them, even with players of our own missing, but then Rooney, Berbatov, Ferdinand and Vidic cost how much between them? - must be knocking on for £100 million.

I have no idea whether Villa, even if they could afford to buy that sort of quality, would be able to attract such players to VP, or even if MO'N would want to go for "big stars" in that way. But in the recent run of games, when we've played Chelsea, it was Lampard and Anelka that combined to score the only goal, with Liverpool it was Gerrard who was our undoing, and with United Ronaldo scored twice (despite playing poorly).

That type of player is what makes the difference.
 

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Take it as it Comes - Man City away report

 
From the evidence of last night, it looks like a new phase has either just ended, or just begun for the Villa.

To put it bluntly, the performance in the first half last night was woeful - as bad as anything we've seen since MO'N became manager. Villa were repeatedly torn apart at the back by the excellent movement of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the passing of Stephen Ireland in particular. Carlos Cuellar looked uncomfortable at right-back, Curtis just looked uncomfortable and with City using the width of the big pitch well, our midfield had no grip at all on the game and the forwards were starved of all but the odd hopeful punt upfield to feed upon.

There were several escapes before City did score, from a clear penalty after James Milner, trying to help out Carlos, bundled over SWP, and Elano scored easily from the spot. SWP had already missed one clear chance, and was to miss more before half time.

Eventually, after about 30 minutes, Villa just started to realise that the point of a game of football is that it's supposed to be played by two teams, not just one, and that both teams should be trying to score and win the game. So the final part of the half ended with Villa at least hinting at an inclination that they might be a bit better than the demonstration of relegation class football they had hitherto given.

To absolutely no-one's surprise changes were made at half time. Curtis, who has been looking increasingly shaky for a while was replaced by Big John, with Carlos moving into the middle at the back, and Milner dropping to right back.
Now before anyone starts picking out Davies as a scapegoat, I think it's worth remembering that it's the manager who picks the team, not the players. Were we possessed of a bigger squad, no doubt Curtis would have had a rest as soon as his form started to dip, instead of playing on with a dicky shoulder and an anxious demeanour.

The same applies to Gabby, to an extent - while he looks fit, he doesn't look sharp - but there's not really a ready made replacement for him.

Anyway, the second half performance was much, much better. GB and Stan started to get a fair share of midfield ball, and to use it well. Carew was more of a problem for their defenders than either Heskey (initially now on the right) or Gabby had been. Carlos looked at home at left Ce
ntre back and Villa were taking the game to City. We were on top, but not dominant - City were still breaking and causing threats to our goal, but the game was at least one where Villa were making a fist of getting an equaliser.

Such chances as we did make, however were spurned - a couple of fantastic balls into the box by Ash, one after skinning 3 defenders were wasted. Gabby really, really, should have got on the end of one of them. Another just being 6 inches too
far in front of Carew for what would have been a certain goal, had he made contact. Barry almost scored from a nice dinked ball by Gabby, but Given saved well.

As Villa pressed more and more, City started to break and threaten our goal once more. it was not really much of a shock therefore, when with almost no time left they broke away and got their second - SWP finally managing to bury one of the many chances he'd had.

Thinking back on the game, and recent games and performances, until last night we had not been playing badly, perhaps the luck that we were having a while back has turned, perhaps mental tiredness has seeped into some of the players. But last night the way they started the game was bluntly dreadful. Lacking in thought, togetherness, spirit and fight it was most un-Villa like.

Of course, over a season, all teams will have a spell like this, and will give performances that have the fans and manager scratching their heads and wondering "why?"

Luckily there is now a bit of a gap to the next set of games. In this gap a few things need to happen.

1. Obviously knocks and aches and pains need to be rested up, to recover.
2. A bit of thinking needs to be done regarding when and whether to take people out of the team once or if they start to dip their level of performance. I know we don't have the luxury of a massive squad, and I know loyalty to players is often well rewarded, but the point at which loyalty is responded to with complacent performances needs to headed off before it occurs not after.

3. The team need to be reminded, that as I keep saying to myself "we have good players" - There is a deal of quality in our side, we are not in the top 4 by luck, we are there because we deserve to be, over the season so far, and Arsenal and Everton don't. Let's make sure we do everything to keep it that way for the last 10 games.

4. All team have bad runs. The good ones don't panic when they do and the best fans don't turn on their players or manager during these times.

5. Some thinking about the longer term also needs to be going on. Where do we need to sort things out - for example, we have again played much of the season with no proper right back. Craig Gardner, NRC, Carlos, James Milner have all played in that position. Our true right back plays at left back. OK Nicky Shorey didn't start so well, and Bouma has been a massive miss, but still, for the third season in a row we are relying on players playing in unfamiliar roles to "fill in". Right backs, good ones, are hard to find, Luke Young is one such, but it'd be nice if he could actually play where he does best.

I'll spare the marks, as they wouldn't make happy reading, for about 5 or 6 of the team, at least. City looked pretty decent, it has to be said.
 

Monday, February 16, 2009

22 Miles Of Hard Road - Everton FA Cup report

 
So another year passes by and the FA Cup will end up somewhere else. Everton, I hope, now.

Yesterday's game ws much hyped by the media as the game of the round, to be played between two clubs with British managers, British outlooks and in form teams.

Less was made of the absentees from both sides - Emille, Bouma, Laursen, Barry, Reo-Coker and Cuellar for the Villa, and a fair number too, for Everton.

As a result, perhaps of the absent players, the game was always going to be a drop down in quality from the best both the sides are capable of and more a battle of wills and character, plus whatever luck there might be.

As it turned out, Everton deservedly got through to the next round. They had more of the ball, more control over the game and the best performers on the day - Arteta in particular. Villa on the other hand had several players who played some way below what they and we might have hoped. Sidwell in particular hada poor game, Curtis, perhaps hampered by an injury sustained early on was also less than assured. John Carew after his lengthy break was unable to hold on to the ball.

With this weakness right down the (outfield) centre of the team, Everton were able to dominate in the crucial areas.

It's no doubt the case that having been caught both early and late by Villa in the previous game at Goodison, the Everton players would have been well wound up to be "at it" straight away. And that they were. WIthin about 5 minutes they were ahead. A corner taken from in front of us - the ball not in the little quadrant when it was taken - and an effort on gaol which hit Stan Petrov on the line. There was a good case for a handball by Stan, as it seemed to his his arm - echoes of Kevin Richardson 25 years ago - same goalmouth, too. It didn't matter though because an Everton player - Rodwell possibly - lashed the rebound into the net.

Villa though were soon level. Petrov passed nicely for Gabby and his run into the box was ended when their full back tripped him. Penalty. Milner. Goal. 1-1. "We've done it before, we'll do it again" we sang. The away section was nowhere near full - apparently we sent back 1900 of the 5900 tickets allocated. Not surprising when you consider it was the second trip to Lancashire in a week, 5000+ were at Ewood last week, and another expensive trip, with CSKA and Chelsea to come in the next few days was never likely to lead to a sell out. The ticket prices were high, considering the game was on the box on a Sunday, and Everton fans seemed to agree - they didn't fill the rest of the ground either. It really needs looking at - 34 quid, plus 1.50 booking fee is too high.

Back to the game and Everton kept going. Amichiebe was proving a handfull, and his run into the box led to another penalty - Sidwell getting nowhere near to him and bringing him down. Arteta. Goal. 2-1 Everton.

There were a few tasty tackles, some slightly "home-ish" decisions by the ref and a really bad miss by Gabby from a lovely cross by Ash after our best move of the half, but Everton went in for their cups of Isotonic tea deservedly in front.

The second half started like the first. Everton on top. Not many chances came, and Villa began to get into the game and threaten, but poor finishing, or accuracy at least led to several opportunities not being taken. The clearest when Ash put the ball in, SIdwell beat the offside trap, nodded across to Carew who had also beaten the flag, but put the ball behind him.

Everton then scored when Curtis and Zat both managed not to get a touch on a cross, leaving Cahill to scuffle the ball past Brad.

Eventually, as time ticked by MO'N lost patience with Sidwell, Delfouneso came on on the left and though both teams tried to get goals nothing further happened.

In most other years, the defeat would have been harder to take. This season however, perhaps just this one season, as much as SIlverware is what we all want, I feel league progress is crucial. There's a gap in the so called invincible top 4-ness of the Sky teams. That gap needs to be filled by someone else. Ideally Villa, obviously.

We walked back to the pubs and bars, and then the train home. The North West Villans all had a good day out, without being able to celebrate.

Some marks

Brad - 7 - Solid.
Craig Gardner - 6 - he did pretty well filling in at right back.
Zat - 6 - he's pretty consistent now.
Curtis - not on form, maybe hurt, 5
Luke Young - 7.

James Milner - 6 - worked hard, as ever.
Stan - 8 - our Man of the match
Siddy - Well below par - 4.5 Just unable to have any positive effect on the game. Off the pace and substituted (Nathan Delfouneso 6) Siddy will have his day, though.
Ashley Young - 6 - some dangerous balls into the box, but not quite on the top of his game.

Big john - 5 - stuff kept bouncing off him. One lovely flicked shot almost scored in the second half.
Gabby - played in spells, 7.
 

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Barometer - Blackburn away report

 
After all the talk about the weather this week, a chance to see whether Villa would continue to rain on the parade of the so called big four, or if winter's harsh toll would see us cast adrift.


The morning up north dawned bright, cold and crisp. Sparrows and starlings competed with an evil looking cat in the garden for the seeds of nourishment from the feeder, though I suspect that kitty has it's eyes more on the birds than the chaf - predatory instincts never leave the hungry hunter.

I drank tea and read the paper in the warm before setting off on the short journey to Ewood from my Lancashire home.

The local train got us into Blackburn at lunch time. We met up in the pub with Villans and Rovers from various parts and had the obligatory pre-match pints and chat. In previous years, young James had been able to predict scores and results with an uncanny accuracy. Today he was saying 1-0 to the Rovers, but pressed on the matter he was less certain - "who would score the goal then?" - "Santa Cruz" was the hesitant reply. I detected that he wasn't as sure as as hitherto. His Rovers supporting Dad was confident however - Big Sam 6 games unbeaten and all that.

The bus journey to the ground from the pub turned into a multiple taxi convoy and then a walk as the traffic clogged the streets.

Tickets sorted, we entered the ground to the sight of about 6000 Villans filling the away end and a reasonable turn-out of Rovers in the rest of the place.

The game itself was not by any stretch a classic. In recent seasons Villa have definitely had the upper hand against Blackburn, home and away, but having lived up here for almost 20 years, I've seen a heck of a lot of fruitless trips too.

Nerves were eased after maybe 20 minutes or so. From a corner, taken short, James Milner (who was tremendous throughout) ran unmolested at the Blackburn defence and just lashed a left footed shot from the angle into the top corner, down the far end. Blackburn had been timid and stand-offish giving far too much room and time to him.

With Zat dominant, Gareth Barry and Stan Petrov controlling midfield and the threat from Gabby, Ash and Emille Heskey, Villa were the better side. Brad Friedel who was warmly welcomed back by the Blackburn fans had now't to do.

Gabby had a goal disallowed for what looked a marginal offside just before half time and whilst chances were not exactly plentiful, I felt Villa were definitely the better side, although Mc Carthy and Co. did look to be potentially a danger, the danger never transpired.

A half time shiver and then on to the second part of the game.

Craig Gardner came on at right back for Carlos - presumably injured and several Rovers changes, but really the game carried on as in the first half for the next 20 minutes or so.

It was about this time that the much serenaded John Carew replaced Emille, Gabby dropped deeper and Blackburn started to get some decent possession. In truth they did little with it. Their fans shouted a few times for the things fans shout for, but the ref, (yet again) Steve Bennett wasn't swayed.

As time drifted on, Villa from a corner taken short, to use up time, lost the ball, but Rovers made mess of things, Gabby pounced and smacked the ball past Paul Robinson. 2-0. 4 minutes of stoppage time to see out. Gabby almost got a third, but hit over by an inch.

With the Blackburn fans having departed in numbers by now, we were left to celebrate an astounding 10th away win of the season, noisily.

A walk back into town, a few more scoops and then the train home. Obviously there was a signal failure and a 15 minute wait, making the subsequent beer and curry all the more enjoyable - the long wait adds to the hunger.

If our boys stay hungry, stay as committed and together as they were today, maybe, just maybe....well, anything really.

Villa were effective and efficient today, rather than exhilarating, but they deserved the win, without a doubt. Blackburn seemed resigned to their fate and lacking in any kind of initiative. Please let them stay up - their fans are too decent and fine, the ground too handy to want them to go down.

Some marks.

Brad - 6 - not much to do, truth be told

Carlos - 6 (Craig Gardner 7)
Luke Young - very good - 7
Curtis - 6.5 - soilid
Zat - 8 - he's playing really well.

James Milner - excellent, 8
Stan - quality performance from Mr Reliable - 8
GB - In the best form he's been in this season - 8
Ash - 6.5 - always a danger

Emille - 7. He's a worker and a real team player(Carew 5).
Gabby - 7 - comes alive and then drops off. Good goal.

Praise most of all for the team ethic, the unity and organisation, the collective belief and togetherness. There's a way about Villa now, away from home, which just reeks of solidity and a stronger level than most of the team we play.

I have yet to hear the other results from today, but without tempting fate at all, there's a good case to say Villa's place in the top 4 is totally right, others seem more prone to turmoil and torment at the moment, and despite the absolute collosal numpties who jeered last week at the end of that game, there is a unity at the club from fans to whoever you choose.

Enjoy it.
 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catch the Breeze - Sunderland away report

 
After an unfortunate break (for me, if not you) the away match report returns, with news from Sunderland.

Welcome back. Having had to miss a few games after falling off my bike recently, I was looking forwards to the trip across and up to Sunderland.

The drive up was as enjoyable as ever - the scenery in Cumbria in particular is staggeringly beautiful, and the light this bright morning made the place seem like a Kingdom all of its own as I journeyed up the M6. Across the lumpy bit in the middle and then onto the A1(M) and onto Sunderland to meet up with Drat Chris and Kate, as well as another Chris, by happy chance, in a rather excellent boozer.

A few scoops later and it was off to the ground. We found our turnstile by following the noise from those already inside and settled down to watch, for the first half an hour, Sunderland thoroughly control the game. They scored early on, a header from a free kick given when Curtis felled Kenwyne Jones. The finish by the Mackem was Laursen like. Danny Collins the announcer said, and the Sunderland fans sang.
With Curtis looking unsettled by Jones, Gabby isolated and Ashley not really getting into the game, Sunderland perhaps might have scored again on a couple of occasions - one well saved by Friedel, and another hit wide, without Villa doing much in reply, at all.
Us travelling Villans were the quietest we've been for a long time, at this point - there was just nothing to get behind, really, and anger at the sub-par performance decided not to break out - we're still in dream-land.
Eventually though, the efforts of Stan, GB and James Milner seemed to drag the rest up by their boots and for the last 10 or so minutes of the first half we started getting right on top, though again we didn't create much. Luke Young was booked early on, and will I think have to miss a game now.
A chat with Yordi and another with Drat at half time had us agreeing that we'd not played well at all. I felt Siddy just wasn't contributing, and half of the rest of the team were sporadic and lacking drive, really.

The second half was different, Villa picked it up a bit, there was more drive and purpose, though Sunderland continued to push towards our goal. Chances were scarce though, until a break down the right by Ashley, a cross low into the middle and the target of the Mackems ire - James Milner - scored the least spectacular diving header I've ever seen - just sliding on the ground to get his head on the ball and put it into the empty net. He was though "attended to" by a defender. He deserved the goal, and a spot of class had evened things up.

We started posing much more of a threat now we'd got our game together, and several more rapid attacks had Sunderland worried.

At this point, in centre midfield, Ashley dived into a tackle with a Sunderland player. No doubt telly later will reveal the extent of his crime. but the ref was clear - straight red. It looked one of those tackles where stretching for the ball he maybe launched himself "recklessly". There looked to be no malice or ill-intent, but it was careless.
In the long term I think the sending off will be a good thing, though he'll have to miss games, obviously. He'll get a rest, one he probably needs. He'll also hopefully learn that sometimes enthusiasm needs to be tempered with a bit of sense, and finally, maybe there's a risk of over-confidence with him, which a ban might put a lid on.

Gabby was booked for protesting at his mate's dismissal. Sidwell was removed and Craig Gardner brought on. Whether this was tactical, or because Siddy was not able to play as he'd have wanted, I don't know.

20 minutes left to hold on for a point.
To be honest the lack of a man didn't show, as the rest of the team just seemed to "magic" the missing one of their number from somewhere.

Sunderland had a great chance from a Jones header, but it was straight at Brad, and despite the raised atmosphere from both sets of fans, nothing looked like happening, until a long ball down the centre was chased by Gabby, he was sandwiched and fouled by 2 Sunderland defenders right on the edge of the box. It seemed a tad harsh to me, but the ref gave a pen, and after a delay, GB belted it into the net.

Villa saw out the last 10 minutes and a surprisingly low number (3) of minutes of stoppage time without too many panics.

At the end, MO'N and the players were clearly chuffed with yet another away win, as they came towards us and received their merited acclaim. If not for a high quality performance, for one of immense resolution and strong will.

Whatever people say, it's not luck. Gary player had it right - "the harder I work, the luckier I get". And there's talent there too, together with nouse.

The drive back was diabolical - the weather over the A66 was atrocious, wind and a howling gale, but back home safe and warm, it was a good day out.

Some marks
Brad - proper solid - 7. Reassurance is the word.

NRC - He's doing better at right back than I'd have thought possible. 6.5
Curtis - Troubled by Kenwyne Jones, 5. Missed Martin Laursen alongside him to win those headers. Got better as the game progressed.
Carlos Cuellar - Played very well, defensively. 7
Luke Young - Another out of position, but doing it for the team. 6

Ashley Young (he started on the right) - Made a goal, got himself sent off. Can't keep out of the news. 5
Stan - 7. More good play from Stan. Consistent, and didn't go missing as a few did early on
GB - 8. Excellent from the skipper. Joint MoTM
James Milner - 8 Also excellent. Really shoved the jeers from the Sunderland fans back in their faces with a tremendous performance, and not a hint of a reaction to several hefty fouls. Well done Sir. Joint MoTM.
Steve Sidwell. 4.5 - just didn't get into the game at all. Effort aplenty, but the game just passed him by. (Craig Gardner - in his 20 minutes he did fine. 6.
Gabby - Needed more help, but did his job effectively 6.
 
blandy

2008 Away Match Reports

 
 

Monday, December 08, 2008

hold on, hold on - Everton Away Report

 
A late report this week, sorry.

I think I've only just got over that game. It was a bit of a throwback, really. So many games these days are quite sanitised - lots of tippy tappy football, no tackling, both teams with the same approach. Not yesterday though

The days started badly with the non-appearance of my train to Preston (for the second weekend running). A dash in a taxi, then the train from Preston to Liverpool and some re-assuring beers with Bickster in our regular pre-match haunt.

Once inside the ground, we for once had a decent view. Upstairs near the front, with no pillar in the way. Everton still do that oh so 70s pre match and half time stuff - seat bingo and the like, and the food matched the 70s feel - a half cooked, over-priced, hot dog as they'd run out of pies and pasties.

We'd barely chomped through the dried out bread when SIdwell scored a screamer - Luke Young cut inside, was given space, and passed into Milner in the centre forward position. His lay off was absolutely welted into the net from 25 yards by Siddy.

For the next 20 minutes Villa ran the game - quicker to the ball, they used it well and had Everton chasing shadows. But then things changed. The Everton fans perhaps got to the ref a bit, but it seemed to me that for whatever reason Everton had decided they wee going to start asserting themselves. They began to win free kicks, harry and chase more effectively and Villa were pushed back. We were not keeping hold of the ball, and weren't giving Gabby a chance on his own up front - too many aerial balls which were always going to be won by their defence.

Inevitably Everton scored. A free kick out on their left, and lescott tapped in after Sidwell missed it. They deserved their equaliser, and finished the half on top.

At half time I felt the manager would have impressed upon the players to keep hold of the ball better, pass to feet, don't try and rush everything.

Whatever, we started the second half as we'd ended the first - under pressure from balls into the box and attacks down the flanks. Laursen and Davies were defending manfully, but if it carried on in the same vein, Everton looked likelier to score than us.

You can't explain what gets into players heads, though. For some bizarre reason an Everton defender passed a ball back in the region of nowhere. Ashley Young had brilliantly read what the defender was about to do and was on the ball in a flash, beating the out-rushing keeper to the ball and plonking it into the net. Funny how things mirror out - a couple of weeks ago Sidwell did the same numb-brained thing for us.

Anyway, Villa now looked more likely to score. MO'N switched Ash into the middle and put Gabby on the left. This worked well - it stopped them attacking so much down that side, and left Everton unsure as to who should mark who.

Ash should have got a second goal, when clean through after the ref let play go on from a tangle between Barry and a defender. Barry had the ball, appeared to be fouled, then appeared in turn to foul the defender while squirting the ball forwards. The shot was on after Ash advanced, but he cut inside and lost it.

Back came Everton, piling balls into the box for the giant George Berry look a (bit) like Feliani. They hit the bar, headed just wide and generally had us defending deep.

The ref throughout the game had been giving some strange decisions - playing advantage when there was none, blowing when advantage could have been played, letting Feliani off for repeatedly fouling, even after being booked already. He wasn't biased, just inconsistent, really. In a way it helped the game, but it was infuriating both sets of players and fans.

I thought we'd hold on, just about to the end, but with only a minute or so of injury time to play, they scored again. A good finish from Lescott - a flying volley. He went mad, shirt off running to the Villa fans. (Why?)

Everton fans, most of whom had stayed to the end, raised the roof, Villa dejected. But hold on - from the kick off, Gabby through to Ash, he skinned Lescott and beautifully curled the ball into the corner from 18 yards. Like last year, Villa came back from the dead, this time getting 3 points instead of 1. Amazing. Fans and players celebrated hugely. Evertonians dejectedly trooped out. They were hard done by, truth be told. A draw would have been fair. Since when has football fortune been fair though?

A remarkably swift return to the pub followed, a couple more beers and then the train home.

The whole day cost me a fortune - about £100, frighteningly, but once again it was worth it. It's a bumpy old ride, following the Villa, but it's fun. Hold on to your hats.

Some marks

Brad - 6 - didn't have too many saves to make, and not at fault for either goal. Reassuring, he is.

Carlos - 5 - not his best game, but he did OK
Curtis - 7 - calm. You need calm in a game like that.
Martin Laursen - 7 - His type of game - lots of heading and clearing.
Luke Young - 6 - he might not like it there, but he's doing a very good job at left back.

James Milner - 6 - Lovely lay off for the goal, worked incredibly hard to help out Carlos. Not able to get forward that much. He's an under-rated asset.
Siddy - 6 - belter of a goal, and like all of them worked prodigiously
GB - 6- started brilliantly, and played intelligently as always.
Stan - 6 - He's now a "you know what you're going to get, and you're going to like it" player.
Ashley Young - 8 - 2 great goals, could have had third. Lethal and lively.

Gabby - On his own up front, he's not often going to get much joy, and that was the way of it in this game. ANother who strove manfully for the team.
 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Glam Racket - Arsenal Away Report

 
Copious mugs of tea, spanish omelette and orange juice. These are just some of the things that are currently doing their best to alleviate the fuzzy headed, bleary Sunday "morning after" feeling that follows one of the Villa's best performances for a long time.

Yesterday was a long old day, starting as it did at the unholy hour of 6:30 am ( I had forgotten there even is a 6:30 am). But anyway, many hours of train travel later I'd made it down to fancy London to meet up in the pub with fellow VT'er Paulo Barnesi, Nigel from the VFC days and a now familiar cast of travelling and London based Villans. Drink was drunk, Pizza was scoffed, and we mostly agreed that Villa would probably lose to Arsenal, what with them having last week beaten Man U, and us having managed to lose the last 2 league games. Arsenal fans in the pub though were not as confident that they would win as we thought they should have been. We were to see why as the day unfolded.

A move of pubs, a march to the ground, where outside I picked up a Programme for a mate's lad and a copy of H&V for myself (there's no competition which is the better read and value - 3 quid for a catalogue of luxury flats for sale, O2 adverts and to be fair some of that indispensable information which is suddenly less indispensable once you've actually seen it - the thoughts of Arsene, or the reserve scores for example, as against the considered and considerable comment and analysis of real people). Anyway I digress.

Villa's third visit to the shrine of 21st century executive class football saw a number of changes - Luke Young at left back, Carlos at right back, Curtis and Martin Laursen in the middle. The Midfield three of Gareth, Stan Petrov and Sidders, with Milner and Ash wide and Gabby on his lonesome up front.

Straight from the kick off you could see Villa were "at it" - taking the game to Arsenal, with Ash, Barry and Gabby all prominent. When we had the ball we used it well, when we didn't they all worked like trojans to stop Arsenal's pass and move game. When Arsenal are on song, they are irresistible, both as a spectacle and as a team. The only way to stop yourself being driven dizzy is to stay calm, organised, controlled and to pose a threat yourselves. That's what Villa did, and it was a joy.

The only thing missing was a goal. There were plenty of chances, but either the keeper was well positioned, or shots went wide. No doubt though that Villa were the better side. And then a penalty. Fabregas or Nasri initially fouled Gareth in midfield, but with him down injured play was waved on. A shot, blocked, ball back out for Ash to run on to, or a defender to clear. But the defender was too slow and Ashley went down over his leg. To be honest I was not at all convinced it was a definite pen. With GB now being treated off the pitch, Ashley wanted to take it himself. He did and it was feeble. Almunia saved and Gallas hacked clear before Ash could knock in the rebound.

Their good fortune didn't really spur Arsenal on, and Ash was now like a man possessed, trying to make amends for his miss. But half time arrived with the game goal-less. Villa I felt should have been at least 2 up.

The second half started with Arsenal managing 10 minutes of control on the game and the concern was that we'd blown a real good chance to get a win. But Arsenal's threat faded, floundering on the intelligent defending, organised midfield play and good use of the ball shown by Villa. I can't stress enough how pleasing it was to see Villa "footballing" a performance against a Sky 4 team.

Things got markedly better for Villa when a break down the left by Ash left him with time to pick out a peach of a cross from Gabby to run on to and head into the net. He was closely tracked by a defender but the whole thing was fast and precise. 20 minutes left on the electric scoreboard. Noise in the away end, glumness in the rest of the ground.

Arsenal shuffled their side around, Adebayor came on, and that mexican lad up front. Their left back was carted off injured with a poorly leg, hurt when he lost the ball in the build up to the goal.

Villa just carried on with the intelligent play. There was no sense that Arsenal were building up any kind of head of steam, but they're always capable, as our last 2 visits have seen, of getting a goal back right at the end. Really only Theo Walcott looked a threat, and he was superbly mastered by Carlos, with able assistance from the rest of the side. On one occasion we saw Gabby surge back in a real speed race to stop a pass into space being picked up by his equally lightning England (if there's any justice) colleague.

While in "Gabby time" everything happens in a blur, in fan time the minutes slowed right down. 10 left, then still 10 left. 5 minutes later 9 minutes and five seconds left. Then the natural order has to re-align the 2 time zones, so a clearance is chased by Gab and Gallas. Time stops. There's no doubt who was going to win the race to the ball, but until recently there has always been some doubt as to what would happen when he gets there first. Not any more. He held off Gallas, knocked it a couple of paces forwards and then belted it past Almunia. Pandemonium in the way end, seats emptying all round the rest of the stadium.

Apart from a header against the outside of the post, and a couple of hits dealt with ably by Brad, the storm never came, Villa ran the ball into corners and eased themselves to a truly merited win.

A race back to the station, through the under-tube network, exchanged smiles and handshakes with fellow claret and blue travellers. Then a couple of swift pints at the station. Thanks from a Spurs fan, a good chat with some Arsenal fans - I've never met one who isn't thoroughly decent. They grumbled about the ref, Riley, they wondered whether "Arsene's lost it", but agreed that Villa were much the better side on the day.

The train journey back was a long and happy one. It seemed rude not to tuck in to some swillo, under the circs.

Home at midnight. 18 hours spent to see 90 minutes of football. Well worth it.

Some marks for the team - 110. The famous Ron Saunders 110% was given and 10 marks each were earned by the players

Brad - did let one shot bounce back out into play, but otherwise he was calm and controlled.

Carlos. Won his battle
Curtis - Won his battles and aided in the covering of Theo.
Martin Laursen. Had Bendtnar in his pocket.
Luke Young - utterly solid.

Jimmy Milner - massive effort put in, just never stops running. Didn't always manage to beat his man, in fact didn't often do so, but with that level of effort, their left back just could not, for a moment, rest easy.
Stevie Sidwell. Very good. I was sceptical about how he would fit in at Villa, but yesterday shows there are no concerns at all. Paulo raved about his performance, and rightly so.
Stan Petrov - we didn't half miss him when he was out. Superb.
GB - excellent performance from Gareth. Some people have questioned him recently. Anyone who saw him yesterday would surely recognise his importance and his quality.
Ash - livewire is the word they use to describe performances like his yesterday. Rubbish pen, mind.

Gabby. 2 goals. The thing about Gab is how you can see the improvement almost with each game. His hold up play and his use of the ball is something I wouldn't have believed possible. Just fantastic.

MoTM - Martin O'Neill. The team was set up right, the tactics were right, the attitude was right, the work-rate, the team ethic, the style were all splendid. Looking back over the past seasons, we were stuffed in the last game at highbury, O'Leary went. Then in the first game at the emirates we scored through Olly, and just defended, a draw "against the odds". Then last season we had a bit of a go, got a goal from a rare-ish attack and Arsenal piled on the pressure and scored right at the end. It might have felt like a defeat, but the performance showed promise. And this season we ran the game and deserved to win. Patience is thin in football, but perseverance is important. When you've got a good manager, keep him.
 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Inbetweenies - Wigan Away Report

 
A local game for me and a chance to reflect on a good day out, to consider where we stand.

The day started well - after all who wouldn't welcome an extra hours kip? Thing is though, every time they shift the clocks forwards, it takes me 2 weeks to acclimatise, every time they shift 'em back, it's like it didn't happen. That can't be right, can it?. You're left in a kind of nowhere zone.

But anyway, get up, wander off to the station, sleet drilling down, then the sun comes out, and it's quite warm. Neither winter, nor summer.

The trains to Wigan from my house take only half an hour, with a wait betwen the two local shuttles at Preston. But then the North West's best pub, or one of them, awaits.

Drank a few beers in good company, toddle off to the ground, pie, wee, match starts.

The game, for the first 20 minutes or so was OK, but with little clear pattern - neither side dominant, final ball not quite there. And then one thing you can rely on - Titus Bumble helped us out - an injudicious tackle on Gabby, right on the corner of the box, down the far end, but definitely inside. Afterwards, in the pub, a Wigan fan said Bumble got the ball, and he had a better view, as he was down that end. Anyway, the Ref thought he didn't. Gareth Barry scored from the spot, very well too.

Us Villans, not as many as the 5400 of last year, but still a healthy number, perhaps a thousand less - around 4,400 at a guess, celebrated.

Wigan threatened a couple of times - Petrov did really well to block Heskey in the box, and Friedel saved a long range blunderbuss of a shot and also got in the way of a header from Heskey stopping what looked likely to be an equaliser..

So half time and 1-0, without the game really catching fire.

The second half was different. Villa did the business. They put Wigan away, as they say.

John Carew came on for a limping GB with maybe 10 minutes gone and almost immediately assisted Gabby in scoring our second. From a Corner his header down was directed onto Gabby's knee and in past Kirkland.

Having been the recipient of some supportive but mickey taking chanting, Big John was clearly delighted.

Our next goal was an absolute beauty.It started with a Petrov tackle and backheel just outside the D of our box. Milner's passed long ball for Gabby sent him away. He held the ball up. Normally, we've seen Gab lose the ball or waste it in these situations, but he waited and then skinned the defender before crossing left footed right onto Carew's noggin 3 yards out. Brilliant. Brilliant team play, great cross, clean finish.

After that, despite numerous Wigan corners, a couple of scares when they perhaps should have pulled one back, Villa held on pretty easily with teamwork and good defending.

Martin Laursen had time for a storming run up the pitch and lay off to Gabby, who reverted to the other type.
Ash too had a run and shot tipped round by Kirkland.

In the last few minutes Steve Sidwell made his league debut, and topped it off with a cracking goal, right into the top corner from outside the box.

Winning 4-0 away with a couple of really excellent goals, and after having played midweek. Really well done to all the players, and the manager.

Back to the pub, chat with some Wigan fans, then to another pub, and a few more drinks with some Cumbrian Villans. Nice end to a good day.

I'm not doing marks today, I want my tea. But I will say that Martin Laursen, Gabby, Stan Petrov, Ashley Young and James Milner were all really, really good. The rest were all good.

Where does it leave us all?

Well we're clearly a side capable of beating "the rest". We're looking able to handle playing after European games, we're well managed, well owned, well supported. But we've done now't yet.

However much us fans love a "character" we can't be having players out on the lash on the eve of games. As much as I'd love to do the same, given half a chance, discipline is needed to change from the progress we've made to the place we want to be.

One final comment - Mark, from the NW Villans - I wouldn't want your hangover tommorrow, mate.
 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ride Away - Albion Away Report

 
A beautiful Indian Summer of a day at the Hawthorns, an open entertaining game with Villa ending up as deserving 2-1 winners - it almost makes up for having to go up at daft O'clock to go to the game. I'm not at all sure games against the Baggies need to be at 12:00.

Get up early I did, and with no trains from the North West to get me to the game, I had to trundle my trusty car out from the garage. The early start probably gave me a feeling of how the Villa players must be feeling - that sensation of not quite being fully with it due to journeys and early rises - Monday London, Thursday Bulgaria and now 12 O'clock on a Sunday in West Bromwich.

The atmosphere in the ground, in the sun, was rather more laid back than on occasions past, and less spiteful than the derby games with Small Heath (R), but there was plenty of noise all the same. I'm not sure if the game was on the telly, hopefully it was, because the detail has gone from my tired mind. What's left is an impression of both sides playing good football, I was impressed with the Baggies passing game and movement, though they lack any kind of focal point to many of their moves.
Villa, as we know are pacy and with the 3 injured players from midweek returning most definitely have a focal point to the attack. He's bigger than me and you, and he could perhaps have had a hat-trick. He had to settle for just the one, and it came after about 25 minutes or so - a solid header in off the angle of the bar and near post pretty much unchallenged. Ashley Young had crossed in from the left from a free kick.
That goal seemed to knock Albion back - they'd looked slightly unsure - as if wondering exactly what Villa might do to them, and the unsureness almost immediately got worse. practically from the kick off a hapless defender passed the ball straight to Gabby who ran on and beat Scott Carson. From 0-0 to 2-0 within about 90 seconds.
We looked well in control, obviously, but let Albion back into the game thanks to a mistake of our own - a well hit shot from the corner of the box was allowed to bounce off the sprawling Friedel, who really should have held on to it and a forward just bear Laursen to the loose ball. It was at this point that I said bad words about Friedel - along the lines of him making quite a few mistakes, and not many top drawer saves so far this season.
But I guess the thing with 'keepers is that they have to clear their mind off what's done and concentrate on what's to do.
What to do, was make a blinding save from a point blank header a few minutes later.

Half time saw some grown ups in animal costumes race across the pitch, for charity, apparently. The Wolves man in an oversized costume won, Villa's Lion was second.
In that heat they'll know how the players felt by the end of the game.

The second half sarted not unexpectedly with Albion coming out with renewed confidence and vigour, but to be honest despite their approach to the game - the diametric opposite of Stoke's style, really, they just didn't look that dangerous.
Villa however did - once we'd weathered the early pressure we took control for a period and really should have scored at least one or two more. A lovely cross from Stan Petrov, again superb, was headed onto the post by Carew, who'd earlier shaved the post from the angle after being put through again by some sweet football. Both time Carson was beaten.
Carson saved from NRC, other moves broke down as maybe fatigue and the heat started to affect players.
Subs started coming on for both sides, players started getting knocks and the ref started getting his cards out. The heat got to him too.

MO'N did his usual "take the left-back off and swap everyone around" thing, so Shorey off, Luke Young across to the LB spot, NRC to RB and Milner on to play right mid.
Stan, after one too many bruisings hobbled off and Craig Gardner came on, and later Carew was replaced by Cuellar, just to see out the last 5.

Luke Moore on for the Albion was given a good round of applause from the away end too.

We held on without too many alarms, cheered off the team, cheered Ian Taylor again sat in the away end, and went in search of some scoff.

A good start to the season, a very good week - 3 wins, all away, in 6 days.

Some marks
Brad - 6 - one great save, one error.
Luke Young, did fine, booked again. 6
Nicky Shorey - he's neat, he passes well, isn't the quickest, but had a good game - 6
Martin Laursen - 8 - excellent
Curtis Davies, also excellent. 8
NRC - another good game from Nigel - still makes the odd bad choice, but is playing well. 8
Stan Petrov - another 8, and another good game from the real Stan.
GB - He knows how to play, where to play and where to be. Classy, but weary. 7
Ashley Young. Not quite at his best today, but worked tirelessly. Refs think he goes down too easily, and sometimes they're right. At other times he gets some rough treatment and little justice. 7
Big John - MoTM - 8.
Gabby - He's improving - his hold up play is miles better than a year ago, he scored, he terrifies defenders, and yet he still frustrates at times with his runs. As long as he keeps improving, he'll, er, keep improving. 7

The subs were all fine, and the ref did alright, too. He got some stuff wrong, perhaps, but let the game flow and gave players breathing space - he used his noggin.
 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Storm - Stoke Away Report

 
My first visit to Stoke's "New" ground - I'd been to the old one a few times, and used to quite like it. The Britannia Stadium, today at least was an impressive sight.

You know what you're going to get when you go to a newly promoted team's first game at home. You're going to get a belting atmosphere from the fans, fired up players, playing like their lives depend on it, and you're probably going to get a few goals.

We had all that, today.

The one thing you hope for when you go to such places is a good refereeing performance. We didn't get that. We got Mark Bloody Halsey.

The first thing to report on is the lack of parking anywhere near the ground. I eventually parked about 2 miles or so away in the town centre. No time for any beer, though to be honest Stoke doesn't look the sort of place you'd want to linger for a pint, on a matchday.

Anyway, to the game. Villa started with the same team as last week, but in our new black and blue away kit. Ashley Young in particular would have felt it appropriate, as he'll be bruised to bits after some mostly unpunished rough treatment. A marked man in more ways than one.

The first 20 minutes of the game was largely all Stoke, with long throws, long balls and mainly attacks down our right hand side. We'd seemed to have weathered the storm and had started coming into the game more, despite looking out of sorts in a number of positions - Gareth Barry in the centre, NRC on the right, and Gabby, Ash and Big John not getting much ball.

Stoke had put a number of balls into the box, mostly dealt with under some pressure, and we'd had just a nice turn and shot narrowly wide from Carew. Then Gabby broke free, seemed to be bundled over from behind, but my view was partially obscured and it was down at the far end. I could clearly se the ref, badly positioned, also with his view obscured, completely, by several players. Because of his poor positioning he couldn't have given us the pen, and the Lino was inert. People with a better view than me thought it should have been given.

In Stoke's next attack, one of their players tumbled on the edge of our box. Halsey didn't give a pen, rightly I think, but I half expected him to. 
The ball wriggled about, trying to escape from all the players trying to hack at it. Brad nearly got to it, but GB, then Nicky Shorey got it. Shorey was hacked down. No foul given - then a Stoke player caught his legs round Shorey and fell over. Halsey was crouched there, itching to give a pen. So he did.

It was well taken. Brad almost got there, but it just beat him. The Stoke fans "Delilah'ed" their happiness. Villa fumed at the injustice.

Half time thoughts were that we'd been rubbish and Stoke's impetus, if not their quality, probably deserved to see them in front. During the first half, with NRC so ineffective on the right, MO'N had re-arranged things after about half an hour, with Ash going right, GB to the left and NRC into the middle. Truth be told only Stan Petrov, who was excellent throughout the game, had shown much in the midfield for us.

The second half saw us come back out as we had started, with GB back in the middle and NRC on the right. But we were much better and managed to play the ball around, getting more service to the forwards.

We equalised with a lovely goal. Combination play, possession, movement and trickery eventually saw Ash back heel for Carew's run and finish. Quality goal. Now the ground reverberated to the noise from the away section.

We were playing with much more confidence and belief, but then a loose pass from Barry, Stoke picked the ball up and ran at the empty left back position - Shorey having gone off injured, I presume. Routledge coming onto the right, Luke Young moved to LB and NRC to RB. Anyway, whoever the Stoke player was scored a cracking goal - with a fantastic turn past Laursen and a hard finish into the corner.

Stokies "Delilah'ed" again, but were hardly through the chorus when we equalised for the second time. A set piece goal, but not of our usual quality. Ash's delivery was mostly poor today, and this was too, but Barry got a shot in, from the mishit freekick and Laursen, I think tapped in the rebound.

Both teams were still trying to win it, and from one of a succession of long throws, Stoke did, with the last kick of the game.

So what have we found out about Villa?

Not a lot that we didn't know already, perhaps. We can score goals, but we let too many in. We don't keep the ball well enough throughout games. We desperately need a right midfielder/winger. Stilian Petrov is a quality player, and has now played very well for 2 games in a row. Gareth Barry is also quality but played a part in conceding 2 of our goals. He needs to get his mind straight.

What of Stoke? - I was impressed by the support they got - much different to the sterile atmosphere you get at many grounds, from the home fans. The players will need that support, because they're not all Premiership standard. They were well organised, and have simple but effective plan. They remind me a lot of Sheffield United under Warnock, not just because of the strip. I couldn't help but feel some empathy with them - it was their big day, or the first of many, and they won. Well done to them. I wonder if they'll struggle away from home, though.

What about Halsey? Once upon a time it used to be an accepted and widely pronounced opinion that "English refs are the best in the world". Now everyone keeps very quiet on that front. And Halsey is one of the reasons. He doesn't deserve the accusation of "cheat", that's unfair, but he needs to cut out his tendency to want to be "part of the story". Frankly if we never have the bloke ref'ing us again, it'll be too soon. We've had far too many of his "look at me" moments for it to be co-incidence. He surely must be like that to every team.... mustn't he?

Marks
Brad - 5
Luke Young - 6
Curtis - 6
Martin Laursen 6
Nicky Shorey 7 (Routledge 6)
NRC - 4
GB - 6
Stan Petrov - 7
Ashley Young - 6
Big John - 7
Gabby - 5
 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thanks

 
This is nothing more than what the title says - a thank you. 

It's not a look ahead, a look back, a comment on players we've signed, or sold, the manager, the chairman or the price of pies. 

I guess it's one of those "stop and smell the roses" things. 

Sometimes we can get so caught up in what was and what might be, we don't stop to just get a feeling for where we are right now. 

So I'll say it again. I like going to watch the Villa. It's good. 

There are many people who have said and written many things about improvements in the club, respect for the tradition, hope for the future, the mosaic, the training ground, the relationship between fans and club and all that. And that's only right and proper. 

There are others who complained bitterly about previous times, me one of them. So given that I've said when I'm not pleased, it's only right to say when I am. 

I guess as you get older, the importance of individual results fades, and the experience you take from the games widens. You appreciate the whole day, whether you win or lose. Quite often in the past it's only been because of the "peripherals" - the pub, the banter, the day out, that I've carried on. 

But you know what? Right here, right now, the experience of going to games is just about the best it's been, certainly since the wide eyed astonishment of youth - where everything was magical, whatever happened. 

There are plenty of things about football that I could rail against - from this 39th game lunacy, to re-arranged kick off times, to the tangible greed enveloping much of it, the Sky 4, the petty idiocy of "sit down" jobsworths and a thousand other things, but despite all that, or maybe because of it, it's worth really appreciating what we have. 

It isn't the edgy experience of the 70s and 80s, it isn't the mass of humanity on a terrace and the eardrum bruising noise of the same period, though just occasionally a (loud) echo is heard, still. 

What it is, is kinder, more comfortable, more commercial and more accessible (with limitations) through our electronic media age. Of course it costs more and players are millionaires and set up for life. TV is ever present. It's an industry, not a sport. The provincial patriarch has been replaced by the super-wealthy owner. 

However well Villa do this season, looking out yesterday at the ground, I saw a stadium that may have lost the Victorian splendour of old, but there are serious signs of class about the place. The balustrades with their claret and clue stripes, uniform around the ground, no tacky adverts, a noticeable, but discrete(ish), electronic advertising board around the pitch, expounding the team "sponsor" ( a good cause), Acorns charity, a team that performs as a team, a team that cares. 

The seats pretty much full. Somebody, or lots of somebodies, are doing something right. And I'm grateful. 

Reader, you may say "well of course you like going - you're a fan, you've been going for ages, why wouldn't you?" But the truth is for a fair part of the time I've been going, it's been a case of habit, not necessarily pleasure. It's been a routine. Of course meeting your friends for a pre-match chat and drink will always be enjoyable, but sometimes the actual matches and experience has been a bit depressing. 

Us fans being a combination of hopelessly idealistic, and brutally pragmatic can't be easy to please, but right now I'm pleased. Maybe writing this after the first game of the season following a good home win is not the right time, but then again, maybe it's exactly the right time. 

When I think of Villa now, I see a uniformity about what the club is. I see a "pure" kit of claret and blue, I see a side with players who ( I hope) appreciate what they have and what their responsibilities are. I see Acorns on the shirts, I see the ground looking more like a claret and blue oasis than it has ever been, really. I see the mosaics, I see a place that is both grounded and yet still has that magical attraction. I see something I want to go back to. 

Thank you Villa. Thank you Randy Lerner, Thank you to Martin O'Neill and to all the people who work for or help the club.
 

Monday, May 12, 2008

ten years in an open neck shirt - West Ham Away Report

 
And so another season ends. This one ended in much the same way it's played out - with entertainment, raucous support for the Villans and plenty of togetherness between the players, management and fans.


The trip to fancy London from the North West is a long and expensive one, and the price of the match ticket at 43 quid was another blow to the bank balance, but it turned out to be well worth the expense.

An early start, too early indeed for Bickster, who missed the train, and met up with us later in London. But the journey down was a good one, spent chatting to a Liverpool fan I know, who was going to see his team play at Spurs.

After negotiating the line closures and heat of the tube I arrived blinking and thirsty into the Upton Park air. Failing to meet up with Paulo and Nigel, I had to settle for a couple of cans of swillo in the sun, and a quick chat with some Hammers, before entering the ground. On going through the turnstiles everyone was handed a "Mellberg - Thanks 4 your support" team shirt. A fantastic gesture from a fantastic gentleman. It's rare that players give anything tangible back to supporters in such a direct way, and it showed terrific generosity from a real pro. Olly, thanks for the memories - the header at Old Trafford, the skilled finish at Boro, the tackles, the blocks, the headers, the pace and the consistency. All the best at Juve. We'll miss you, and we'll remember you. And you were right about the Blues, too.

Anyway, the game itself was a belter. Given the number of end of season games that end in 2-2 draws and our shared history of draws with West Ham, I felt the game was likely to end at 2-2, and it did, though during the first half i feared we might lose, and in the second I thought we'd win.

West Ham scored first - a free kick from the edge of the box beautfully taken by Nolberto Solano, still a class player and a real threat all afternoon. Though he got some stick from us lot, he didn't celebrate. Scott Carson didn't get the wall right - I was right behind him, and there's just no way he could have sen the ball until it was over the wall. He nearly saved it, but should have organised the wall better.

It didn't take long for us to equalise. Ashley Young had already hit the post down the far end, and after about quarter of an hour, he was put through by Nigel Reo-Coker and finished very well.

West Ham though were attacking with pace, movement and strength and were getting through our back line a bit too easily at times. Several shots almost went in, and they looked dangerous.

The second half was much better from a Villa perspective. We really went at them from the off and Robert Green had to make a number of saves, Shots were blocked and deflected.

Gareth Barry was outstanding, driving on, playing people in, shooting and controlling. After one surging run down the middle, like a modern day Dennis Mortimer, he passed to NRC, whose shot was beaten out, but only back to the Skipper, who volleyed into the net. Delirium in the away end.

West Ham then came back at us, Ashton hitting the bar from a cross - he looked a danger all through the game.
There were panics in the West Ham area too, one sequence of shots and blocks, ending with their keeper down with a head injury. He was fine though, happily, and the game carried on at great pace, interspersed with the players snatching drinks from the sidelines.

Just before the end, West ham scored a belting goal, a powerful curling first time hit from Ashton giving Scott no chance at all to save. We went down the other and another mad scramble saw the ball cleared off the line, and hit the arm of Ferdinand, too. But the whistle went, and the game was over. Olly was serenaded one last time, relegation for small heath cheered lustily, and we have intertoto football and hopefully UEFA cup football to look forward too next season.

We made it back to Euston quite quickly and were able to scoop down a few quick pints of Fuller's excellent produce with Barnesy, before the train back to the north. Cheers Paulo.

Some thoughts on the season overall, and our Skipper in particular. Like practically all the squad, Gareth has done really well this season. He's arguably been our best player, he's unarguably a gem. I absolutely love watching him play, so it's hardly an unbiased view, but I really think there's an absolutely sound set of logic for him to stay at Villa. Just look where he's gone this season - He's a key part of our side, established as the first name on the team sheet in central midfield. He's playing great football, he's enjoying it. Martin O'Neill's management has brought out the absolute best in him. As a result of his fine performances he's a regular England starter. He's a wealthy man, he can earn plenty more in the years to come. No doubt the notion of playing EuroTelly league games is appealing, and no doubt tales from his mate Gerrard make him envious to an extent. But is moving from Villa to a left back/left sided role, when he's not rotated by Rafa, or whoever takes over from him, really in his best interests? Liverpool look to be in a bit of a crisis with their owners not talking, Rafa and Parry at Loggerheads, a lack of money from signings and for their new ground. How's Gareth's mate Crouchy getting on up there? Liverpool is a fine club, but it doesn't look to me like GB should go there. Our players, with one exception, seem to agree. He's wanted and loved at Villa.

At Villa we have something really going on. A fantastic manager, a brilliant owner, a settled and ambitious Club going undeniably in the right direction. Players will come in, in number and quality this summer. There are of course, no guarantees, but it just looks right at Villa. It looks good for the future. The grass is green.

For the rest of the squad, most of them young and improving things also look good. Martin Laursen has been a giant, Ashley Young a proper entertaining winger, there are goals from everywhere and a tremendous spirit. Pace, Power and guile abound.

I've spent a small fortune travelling up and down the country watching the team this season, and just about every minute of it has been fantastic. Well worth the time and the train delays, the motorways and the car park delays.

Have a good summer, come back safe next season, passports ready, Voices rested.

Thanks to everyone who's made it so good this season, from the ticket office, to the fellow travellers. And whoever "found" my iPod yesterday, in the away end, you better enjoy using it.
 

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stay Close - Everton Away Report

 
A later report than normal, from the game at Everton today, due to a pleasant post match spell in the pub.


For us North-West based Villans a trip to Everton is always one to savour. Handy, fine City, good beer, often a good game and, er, rain.
Today was no different, though the short trip was made all the better for meeting up with old fiend Risso, over from his rocky outcrop in the Irish sea, and particularly because of a meet up with all round top man Tsvet from Bulgaria, plus Yordi a UK based Bulgarian Villa fan and a couple of others over for the weekend, one an Evertonian. Multinational game this premiership football. It was an absolute pleasure, fellas. Thanks.

Following the pre match preparations in a notable City centre boozer we took a cab to the ground, and got out into the pouring rain. Memories of Chris Sutton's winner last year, and Merse's spectacular a few years before, also in the rain, sprang to mind.

As the game kicked off there was a tremendous atmosphere in the ground, both sets of fans bellowing out their songs. Everton for the first 10 minutes were pushing and probing more assertively, but gradually Villa got complete control of the half. Plenty of possession, the Everton crowd quietened, the only thing lacking was much in the way of goalmouth action, or shots.

And then Ashley Young hit a belting free-kick over the wall past the keeper and onto the post....and back out. A brilliant effort and a goal would have been well deserved for Villa.

So at half time both managers would have been pleased and disappointed - MO'N because Villa had controlled the game, but not scored, and Everton because they had held on, but not played so well.

The second half saw things change - Everton were much more involved, pressing and closing and tackling, and their passing improved too. Villa put under pressure coped well, but with less possession, things weren't so assured.

I guess after about an hour or so, Everton scored. A good hit from the right, by Neville, was covered by Scott in goal, but it hit Martin Laursen on the side and the deflection, though not massive, took it into the net.

For a good while, that looked like it would be the only goal, the forwards weren't really on top for either side, but then joy for the Villans with maybe 10 minutes left, when a corner on the far side, taken by GB, reached Gabby who just knocked it nicely into the net on the bounce. The goal had followed on from some close shaves here we could have scored from freekicks and corners - Laursen, Carew and Zat, I think (though the view from the third row of the lower tier was not good) having half chances.

It was now end to end, subs Patrick Berger and Marlon on for Zat and Freddie Bouma (both tactical as we tried to get something from the game) were trying to create and finish in a very attacking, formation.

But then Everton scored again, a cross from their right, curled in from fairly deep saw Yobo volley in from a yard or two, after getting the wrong side of Nigel Reo Coker, nominally marking him, but actually from my awful view playing him onside and being in the wrong place. Still, makeshift measures carry that risk, as you go for it.

So with maybe 5 minutes to go we were behind again. It didn't seem fair on the balance of play, and Villa were having none of it. Nice play involving Stan and GB led to GB just passing a lovely little cross for Big John to nod in from 6 yards. Bedlam once again in the sold out away section.

Both teams tried to score again, but time was up. A draw fair result for both sides I felt. Good game, good atmosphere for much of it. Proper competitive meaningful football between 2 teams of different styles, but both with spirit by the bucket load.

Villa, to me, looked more classy on the day, and more confident, but Everton were determined and played well themselves for spells. Neither side is quite top 4 material at the moment, but both clubs and both teams could and perhaps should be, given time, patience and money.

some quick marks
Scott 7 - did well on a slippery surface, unlucky with both goals - nothing he could do

Olly - 7 - 2 games left, now for our bearded wonder. We'll miss him.
Freddie - 6. Sound.
Martin Laursen - 8. Magnificent
Zat - 7 - very assured.

NRC - 6 - hard working and mobile, passed well, too.
GB - 7 - made 2 goals, but played at time too far forwards in the second half, I felt, and we lost a bit of midfield control as a result. (That's probably rubbish, mind as it was impossible to se the patterns of play from so low down).
Stan - 7 - good passing and composed.
Ashley Young - 7 - a real threat again, in the free role. Very unlucky not to score.

Big John - 7 again. Not quite unplayabale today, but pretty good all the same.
Gabby 6 - scored, but maybe also not at his best.
Everton's defenders impressed me, too - Lescott and Jagielka were both excellent.

The ref was average, I felt.

That's all. 2 to go, and we're still close.
 

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Some Candy Taking

 
A report of a surreal day at a surreal ground as experienced by a scouting party from the North West Villans.

The day started with a mixture of hail, sunshine and rain on my short trip to Bickster's house in Formby. That was about as normal as it got all day. 

It's true that the subsequent drive to Derby was routine enough, it's also true that the while the pub was a little bit special, and the beer both nutritious and delicious, and the company excellent, including another VTer, TrentVillan, nothing looked likely to really jolt us out of our happy and relaxed reverie. It was more a creeping thing. 

First off there was the ground - pretty much full, despite Derby's appalling season. I can think of plenty of places where that wouldn't be the case. Then there was the stadium announcer - without any sense of irony he was really trying to ramp up the importance of the game as an event. It didn't quite fit right. Sure both sets of fans, and (as it turned out) one set of players wanted to win, but come on - he was a bit detached from reality. 

As we Villans settled into position the atmosphere was good, both teams looking fairly evenly matched in terms of play, with perhaps Derby starting slightly the brighter. 

It wasn't to last that way though. Just as we were beginning to think that it wasn't going to be a walk over - Freddie Bouma with a last ditch tackle saving us from perhaps going behind, and that Derby weren't that bad after all, Roy Carroll came flailing out of his goal for one of Ashley Young's free kicks taken from our left, and he missed it. I don't know if Martin Laursen got a touch after that, or if it went straight in, but 25 minutes or so gone and we could settle ourselves down and try and play a bit more controlled football. 

Gareth Barry and Stan Petrov started to get a grip in centre midfield, Big John's hold up work came more to the fore and we began easing ourselves well on top. 

Within a couple of minutes we had another, Carew belting the ball powerfully through a crowd from the edge of the box. 

Not long before half time Roy Carroll decided to give us another helping hand - a poor kicked clearance went straight to Stan on the edge of the centre circle. Instantly Stan hit it back over Carroll's head, left footed and into the corner of the net. A goal of stunning skill. 

By now, it was like big boys taking the sweets from the small boys or a junior school side playing a senior school side. Every time the ball went loose, Villa picked it up. We were on song, but Derby were dire. They'd just collapsed. 

The second half started a bit like last weeks game - the struggling side, given a telling off at half time roused themselves for a bit of an effort, for a while, but it came to now't. 

Villa got back in control and scored a 4th - Gareth Barry knocking in a rebound after Gabby's shot was saved by Carroll when put through easily by the splendid Ashley Young. 

Around about this time, the Derby fans, who had been quiet, started a grand piece of theatre - for some reason they all started cheering wildly and chanting - perhaps in response to winning a throw in, or had Forest let in a goal elsewhere - I don't know. 

Gallows humour I suppose. It was followed by a succession of mexican waves. None of all this had anything whatsoever to do with their abject team. It was just the Derby fans making their own amusement. Quite a sight to see, and it all brought smiles and applause from the Villans in the ground. The last time we gave someone an away tonking like this was at Leicester about 3 years ago, and they went angry mental at their team. Derby were like "they're nothing to do with us, that lot on the pitch, we're just having fun" 

On the pitch Villa decided to score another one, after a period of wasting chances and moves breaking down. it was ridiculously one sided. Gabby this time scored after being put through by a rebound, I think. 

Martin O'Neill let Gareth and Big John have a rest, and Salifou and Marlon have a go at stealing sweeties. 

Marlon did the better of the two, as he helped himself to a thumping goal when Paddy Berger, the third sub just played him in. 

The game ended, we'd won 6-0, played well, Derby had been truly, desperately, bad. Their fans - the ones who stayed at least, were a credit. 

Some marks for our school bullies 

Carson - a Mars bar snaffled from a brilliant save in the second half. 

Olly - had a few goes at goal, had a forward in his pocket, and ended up with some Maltesers and a Toblerone for a good performance. 
Martin Laursen - Paul McGrath's wine gums? 
Zat - Smarties off Kenny Miller 
Freddie - A packet of spangles and a kit-kat for a solid bit of full-back play 

Nigel Reo Coker - had a terrific haul of opal fruits, but gave a number of them away. 
Stillain Petrov - a chocolate truffle was his reward for an brilliant goal and game. top man. 
Gareth Barry - Our Prefect garnered himself a selection of Bon-bons 
Ashley Young - Bassets allsorts for Ash, Plenty in his box. 

Big John - He's bigger than me or you and earned himslef a big Yorkie Bar for his efforts. 
Gabby - He wasn't quite a kid in a sweetshop today, but his sweet tooth for goals brought him a bag of Celebrations. 

None of the subs were on long, but they shared a haul of nutty slack. 

One last comment - at half time Derby let people out the ground to blink in the sun, buy food and toke on a gasper if they wanted. Very enlightened. We should do that at VP - the banished baked potato stall could be out there, too.
 

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down

 
Readers might know about the growing furore around the issue of "persistent" standing and the consequences for us fans, as well as the club.

Here we take a look at where we're at right now.

Personally, I think the whole issue is absolutely bonkers. The rules are ridiculous, ill-defined, unreasonable, don't have anything like consensus support amongst match going fans, and are being used by jobsworth numpties to try and get themselves some attention, pay-rises, little empires and continued employment at local councils and the FLA.

The issue absolutely needs resolving - Where it is right now is unworkable and unenforceable.

So that's my cards on the table.

Unfortunately, we are where we are right now. And where we are is that the club has been told that it will be fined if fans continue to persistently stand at the back of the Upper Holte.

General Krulak has said the following 
The only issue right now is that we have been offically cautioned about this issue and we need to take action to stop the persistent standing. In many ways, this is like the smoking ban...we don't have to like it...it just is what it is. We are asking for the Fan's help on this...we cannot control it ourselves without causing major problems. We need our Fans to understand that persistent standing puts our club in a financial problem. We will do all in our power to control the away fans...and will do so even if it means throwing folks out of the park. Stating that you or others are "excited" 90 minutes a game is in concert with how I feel (and Randy) BUT, that CANNOT be the excuse we use. I would not be coming on this site and asking for the help of the fans if we REALLY didn't need your help. 
on VillaTalk's messageboard.

So what should we do?

My suggestion is that in the short term we should take heed. We should comply with his request for our help.

I believe this for two reasons

1. Bluntly, if we don't, we'll get thrown out of the ground. We'll lose our season tickets, the club will lose money and less people will be allowed to attend games. Self interest in the short term says please do as our club asks.

2. There's also a gain for us in complying (as opposed to an avoidance of losing something). The campaign against the way the "rules" are being enforced by the FLA and councils will not succeed with outright confrontation. It might succeed if we can get the club to work with us. So to get the club to work with us, we have to work with them. Co-operation is a 2 way street.

So if we do our bit, I would hope that the club would respond by doing their bit, as I see it.

Clubs and fans need to be aware of the background, each others views on the issue and take it from there.

So here's some background, from the FLA, no less. 

The last season for which figures are available is 2005/6. (The FLA has for some reason delayed publishing last season's figures - why could that be? does it show further improvement and further undermine their stance) show that across the whole country

• The downward trend in the reported injury rate continued – from one injury per 28,363 in 2004/05 to one injury per 32,449 in 2005/06. While overall attendances fell by 1%, the overall number of injuries treated fell by 13% from 1,377 to 1,191. 
• The number of injured spectators taken to hospital fell substantially from 100 in 2004/05 to 65 in 2005/06 
• The 1,191 spectators treated for injuries sustained at the ground were greatly outnumbered by the 1,892 treated for illnesses or pre-existing injuries 
• Since 2000/01, the overall number of injuries treated has fallen by more than half from 2,429 to 1,191 and the number taken to hospital by over three quarters from 304 to 65.


So the trend is downwards, crowds are up, there's no breakdown of how injuries occurred - people falling over, walking into walls, being hit by the ball, burnt by hot coffee, etc etc.

These figures just do not support any case for "clamping down" on people standing, on the grounds of safety.
The council and FLA have no authority or jurisdiction over "customer complaints" - people who can't see because someone is obscuring their view, by the way.

While we're on the stats, the FLA reported that for the above year, one of their "key aims" was to 

Persuade football authorities and clubs to accept responsibility, in partnership with local authorities, for eliminating persistent standing by their supporters, in particular away from home, through national and local measures. and their progress on this was  
Disappointing progress at many grounds. Legal advice taken over extent of our liability and that of clubs / the football authorities. Examining with local authorities what further measures may be possible. 
Football authorities confirmed that they have no wish to reintroduce standing; are considering various initiatives.


So there you have it, they set themselves an aim of reducing persistent standing, got nowhere with it, yet even so, the number of injuries at grounds continued to go down (perhaps because persistent standing isn't the problem in terms of safety?). And their first response to their failure was to look at the extent of their own liability, legally speaking.

The other background is what we know - a significant number of fans want to stand for more than just "periods of excitement" and that when they do, it adds to the overall spectacle, and to their enjoyment of the games.

There is no genuine problem as such, only an artificial one - an ill defined set of legal guidelines is not being adhered to by people who live in the real world, and the FLA and councils in some Cities are put out by it, or see an opportunity to further their own career agendas.

What I'd like to see is for people to do as the General has asked, and in return for the club to clearly communicate with the FLA and the council, on behalf of their customers, and the council's tax-payers, that the way they are performing their job is not only counter to best practice in terms of dealing with a notional problem, but counter to the interests of those customers and tax-payers.
The FLA say that football authorities (the FA and Premier League) are not interested in bringing back terracing. Basically I read that as they are just not interested in the whole isue, unless it will hurt them in the pocket.

That's not good enough. People can hold differing views about the re-introduction of terracing, or not, but there's no doubt in my mind that Clubs need to take a more pro-active stance, and work with their supporters to reach a MUTUALLY agreeable outcome.

That isn't "you lot sit down" it's "how do we jointly put a case that satisfies your wishes, your safety and our finances/other needs?"

So to summarise. I feel supporters at the rear of the Upper Holte should spend a little more time seated for the rest of the season, for their own benefit and for that of the club, and then over the summer and beyond, fans and the club can try and address the issue we're facing without getting ourselves thrown out, fined, arrested, sections of the ground closed down, and so on.

You know it makes more sense than half the stuff the FLA and council come out with, at least.

There's a long thread with much more detail and comment 
here
 

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pattern Recognition - Manchester United Away Report

 
A match report in which your correspondent fails to report almost anything of note.

Apologies, dear reader, but I'm lost for what to say, or what to make of it all today. There was a game played. Villa, as is the case and has been the case for a very long time now, lost to Manchester United at Old Trafford - I was a teenager last time I saw us win there, 25 years ago.

I've been to just about every game we've played there since that win in '83. The past decade or so, they've all been much the same, the games, with the odd exception. Managers have come and gone, many players too. The good, the bad, the indifferent.

And always it's the same. Sometimes, like today, it rains and it rains and it rains. Other times the sun's been out.

Always, as far as I can recollect, the end result is much the same. They win, we lose.

Today we started brightly, for 12 minutes or so looking sprightly. Then they scored from a badly defended corner - the ball missed by the zonally marking defenders, hitting one of them, Bouma, I think, and Ronaldo quick to the ball knocked it into the net. Game over, really.

Though it went on for much longer, of course, all that is to report is that United were bright, pacy, eager, talented and alert, and had plenty more chances, some scored, some saved, some missed - Rooney scored a couple, and Tevez the other - a header from a cracking cross by Rooney, with Nigel Reo-Coker dozing off on the wrong side of Tevez.

Rooney's two goals were well taken. He missed a sitter, Shaun Maloney missed a sitter for us, they then scored. Oh, I give up - you'll have seen it on the telly, anyway.

3 of the goals were due to defensive lapses, perhaps, but at other times we defended well, individually.

Look, who cares? It happened.

The struggle I have is quite what to make of it, quite what it tells us. And I just don't know.

I'm sure people will debate and discuss on the messageboard the significance of this that or the other for our prospects over the rest of the season, and into next even. But I just have no thoughts at all on the matter.

Perhaps people will discuss why we played a central midfielder at right back. He did quite well, Nigel. Should we be doing it though?

Perhaps people will look at the performances of individuals - why was Gabby so absolutely listless? was it his orange boots?

Why was Zat dropped? - well I think we know why, on that one.

Really I don't care. Not in a "I've had it with them" way. I just don't care in a "there's now't I can do about it" way. It's been going on for so long, it's so utterly predictable, whether it's Neil Cox or Earl Barrett, Paul McGrath or Olof Mellberg, Scot Carson or Tommy Sorensen...and so on. It's all just blended into one long repetitive pattern of them being better than us.

Today's little rays of hope were Shaun Maloney, Stillian Petrov, Martin Laursen and Daddy Cool, sorry, Salifou - just mildly resembling Ian Taylor, by the way.

Details details.

What is Aston Villa Football Club going to do, or able to do about, y'know, just always losing at Old Trafford? Anything? Nothing? It's a big question, and one I feel goes to the heart of where the club's headed - Man United are the benchmark, the most successful club in England over the past decade plus. What can Villa do to replace them, anything? nothing? will we try, should we try? should we settle for being a self sustaining club? Is going to the games enough - just to watch and enjoy the football, without really worrying about that troublesome trophy business?

That we lost this year, is neither here nor there, really. But equally, we can't just sit here, forever looking for a brighter future, can we?

We sort of had a go - we lost 4-0 in part because we didn't go there for a 0-0. That's a start in my eyes. That approach, however forlorn it turned out to be, at least we wanted to take the game to them. Sporadically we were successful too, though let down, as I mentioned, by the defending.

The playing staff is sort of partly geared towards the attacking approach, but let down by whatever lethargy got into Gabby in particular, and the complete lack of depth of the current squad. So perhaps we can improve the squad?

But I've thought all these things before, in past seasons. It's just pattern recognition.

So go on then Villa, shake me out of this sodden, soggy, rain drenched, 80 quid down the drain catatonia. Or maybe don't. You decide. I'll watch. I've shouted and sang, trekked all over the Country, sulked and celebrated, cursed and lauded - and nothing's changed.

I'll go to the pub before the game, chat with friends, meet old friends, by chance, on the train, get soaking wet and sunburnt. Life will just go on. It's not a bad one. In fact it's a darned fine one.

No marks this week. But Gabby wouldn't have scored highly.
 

Sunday, March 02, 2008

In Metal - Arsenal Away report

 
What do we make of that then? I'll tell you what, be proud of the team and the manager, that's what. They were superb. I'm not so sure about some of our support, but yesterday saw one of the best Villa performances since Martin O'Neill has been manager.

At this point your VillaTalk correspondent would like to apologise for the late arrival of the match ramble (in association with Black Beer), scheduled to arrive at 10:30 last night, but unfortunately delayed by the fact that Network Rail exists.

Incidents on the line between Milton Keynes and Hemel caused the day to be a very long, and expensive one indeed.

The day started well enough, albeit uncomfortably early for Bicks and myself, as a trip to fancy London means getting the train, for me at least at 7:30 in the morning. Meeting up with Bickster, we set off full of optimism.

Soon however things started to go slightly awry. Something called "weather" had interfered with the, ahem, normally smooth running of our nation's strain, sorry, train, service. Weather had made a freight train fall over and break the metal road.

Consequently, instead of arriving in London around mid-day, we were left bimbling about at Moor street for a good while, eventually catching a painfully slow Chunter line train down to Marylebone. The train was occupied, in part, by young Villans chugging down draughts of economy "Swillo brand" watery "lager", perhaps anticipating a shortage of pub time in London, and of course the high prices down there for Swillo.

Arrival in London saw things improve, a couple of text messages later and after a quick ride on the under-tube, in the belly of a metal worm down in the caves we emerged into the sunshine to meet up with friends and acquaintances at Highbury and Islington. Cheers fellas.

We talked amongst other things, over a few pints of Stout (no Swillo for us Northerners) about prospects for the game. We all felt that while any result was possible - something that for a good decade, just about, has not really been the case - Villa really did have a good chance to actually win. 1-0 to us was my confident prediction. Oh so close.

A walk past down past the old the ground, now a building site, and into the Metal coliseum that is the Emirates. On my second visit, I was no less impressed than on my first. Though it's clearly a corporate paradise, it's still mighty impressive. It's a shame that the corporate shilling is quite so dominant, and it's a shame that some fans with flags were prevented from hanging them up, but a fine stadium it is.

And there before us were the players.

The game kicked off with Arsenal looking quite sprightly, but Villa also were looking to use our pace up front and really "give it a go". Arsenal's passing, touch and movement, even when they're not at their peak, remains an example of how attacking football should be played. They missed a couple of early chances, Fabregas shooting over, Walcott impressing, confident no doubt after scoring 2 against small heath last week.

Speaking of last week, the unfortunate Eduardo, as people know, suffered a horrible injury at the Sty. The several hundred Villa fans, amongst the 3000, singing about this did not do us proud. What purpose it serves, and how it is of any help to Villa beats me. Human decency is lacking in too many people, sadly.

Villa were coming more into the game, breaking brilliantly, the shape of the team was good, the midfield were closing down and tackling and then keeping the ball. Unfortunately we were dealt our first bad hand when Nigel Reo-Coker was injured and had to be replaced. Zat knight came on, Craig Gardner went to midfield and Curtis Davis moved to right back.

It didn't affect our play, or the confidence of the team.

Not too long before half time we got a bit of luck to balance things up. Gabby down the left, cut into the box, crossed the ball low and fast, and Phillip Senderous kindly finished the move off by tonking the ball past Almunia.

Other chances for Villa were created, and Shaun Maloney, having a blinder, in my eyes, hit a fantastic shot towards the top left hand corner of the goal. The keeper just managed to finger tip the ball onto the post, and away. Scott Carson saved well from a good Arsenal chance.

After half time, Arsenal again started very brightly and again Villa suffered what looked this time like a bad injury. Curtis Davies was stretchered off after twisting his knee, I think. And still people sang about Eduardo. Belief was beggared.

Back to the football, Ozzy came on, Craig Gardner moved back to right back. But still Villa played on in the same vein, perhaps even better than before. What seemed like countless, but in reality was perhaps only 4, clear chances were created. Gabby twice, Ashley Young and later Marlon, on for Shaun, all could and perhaps should have scored. Almunia saved all of the efforts. Would we pay? It didn't look like it, though the pressure was building. Adebayor, almost, from 2 crosses, got an equaliser, defenders blocked and tackled, even big John got tackles in. Shots went wide.

And still we were a threat on the break.

3 minutes injury time was signalled, and in the 4th of these 3 minutes with absolutely the last kick (but for the resulting kick off) Bendtner equalised.

Arsenal rejoiced, Villa were gutted. Not rewarded fully for the effort and skill we put in. Tactically too we had got it right.

Personally, though I'd absolutely love to have won, I wasn't at all down-hearted, and nor should the players be, for long. They were magnificent. That showing did us proud, it was an example of everything that has been improved on the field over the last 18 months. We're definitely, irrefutably, a good side now. We can match Chelsea and Arsenal on their own grounds. On one of those occasions we scored a last gasp equaliser, on another we conceded at the end. Them's the breaks. But, by playing as a team, by attacking and by no little skill and endeavour, along with a (mostly) excellent support Aston Villa is back as a club we can be proud of.

A belated happy Birthday to MO'N. It could have been even happier, but he's given us one hell of a present, and better than that, a future.

Some marks

Scott - 7. One poor punch and some quality goalkeeping the rest of the time.

Craig Gardner - 7 - better in midfield than at right back, but a good game from our tiger. Blasted one free kick over, got forward, tackled and chased and shot and crossed. Good work.
Freddie Bouma - like Craig, splendid. One of his better games. 8
Martin Laursen - Another fine game from a fine, fine player. 8
Curtis - Another who played well, sadly injured, 7. (Zat Knight - splendid, 7)

Ashley Young. Like With Martin Laursen, you know how good he is. Showed it again. 8
Shaun - He really impressed me today, 8 One cracking effort almost scoring from 25 yards. (Marlon, 7. Should have scored, was a real handful and kept the team going. He's gone from someone most fans really didn't rate, to a hugely popular player by dint of his commitment, attitude and goals. No question he was a good signing.)
Nigel Reo Coker - good, again. Passing was accurate. Hopefully he'll not be out for long. 7. (Ozzy - ever more promising, stronger now. Slotted in seamlessly, as they say. 7)
Gareth Barry - Control, reading of the game, passing..etc etc..(you know the script so well). Led by example. 8.

Big John - Battled hard, strong, a leader. In possibly the only minor quibble I might have, he perhaps could have gone off, instead of Shaun, as he tired towards the end. 7.

Gabby - Back revitalised, he terrorised Arsenal's defenders and made the goal. 8.

Man of the Match - all of them. Team effort.
 

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

American English - Liverpool Away Post Match Thoughts.

 
Aston Villa, so long a by-word for instability and plotting and internal politics is now ultra stable. Liverpool, England's most successful club, and for so long ultra stable is now anything but. Who'd a thunk it? They have my sympathies.
This is not, by the way, so much a match report as a bunch of random thoughts.

The first of several things that struck me on the way to the game last night was that of the role reversal that is taking place.

In recent years, for far too many years, it has been us Villans unhappy with the way our club was run, in a ferment as we railed against what many saw as an owner more with his own interests at heart, than those of our club. Joyously that sad situation is now well and truly in the past, both Mr Ellis and the fans have moved on, to hopefully happier futures - certainly more optimistic from the fans perspective, at least.

Our new-ish American owner is quite rightly hugely appreciated. He says very little, publicly, preferring to let the manager do the talking, and to let Martin O'Neill run the playing side of the club exactly how he sees fit. He preserves and cherishes the traditions of our club, and is building upon them.

Quite remarkably, it's now Liverpool with the angry fans, protest, unpopular owner(s) prone to saying things that they really should keep to themselves. 

Their manager is blatantly undermined, though he's also been "playing games" himself, complaining about the owners, lack of money and so on. It's all so eerily familiar. Some of their players speak codedly about how things are not right at the club, others say nothing. There are grand plans announced, and then they seem to fade away to nothing. Deja vu, for us lot. A new and unpleasant shock for the scousers.

Another contrast is that of the records of the two clubs. Not such a big contrast admittedly, as we both have the same number of points, but Liverpool draw far too many home games to have any chance of winning, or even challenging to win, the league. Villa on the other hand, as this was an away game for us, have now gone almost 12 months with just a single away defeat - exactly the sort of form which, if built upon, could lead to "getting up there" in the not too distant future.

That there is much building to be done is apparent when looking at the squad size and depth of the two clubs. Villa missing Gareth Barry and the on-loan Scott Carson had to recall a raw but promising young player with just a handful of games, back from loan to sit on the bench. Liverpool, as is their wont, change their team every week, picking at random from a profusion of internationals.

The way I see it, then, is that their expectations and hopes are not anywhere near being met, ours are for the most part, more than being met.

The game itself was one in which Liverpool could and perhaps should have gone more than one goal up, had their finishing been half decent. But it wasn't. They did though certainly have much the better of things for all of the first half, and the start of the second half. Sami Hyppia, though ponderous in comparison to Gabby, was able to nip in time and time again, to take the ball before Gabby could get away. He matched Carew in the air, and with both teams' passing at times being very careless, the forwards were not getting much to feed on anyway, particularly our two. We certainly missed GB. The counter point to the absence of Gareth was that Nigel Reo-Coker really raised his game. His tackling, closing down, blocking and intercepting was high class, as we know he's capable of. Giving the skipper's armband to him seemed to lift his performance. If only he could, on occasion release the ball, simply, a little sooner, and pass with a bit more penetration, he'd be the complete player. What I do feel though is that he is improving. He's less careless with the ball now that he was earlier in the season. Nigel had, a very good game.

Our other players who get talked about in terms of being called up for England weren't nearly so effective. Ashley Young was frankly poor last night and also unluckily seemed to pick up an injury to foot or leg that hampered him. Gabby, as already mentioned was well marshalled and had little service. His pace was still there, of course, and but for a failure to pass at the right time, a break could well have led to a 3-1 lead for Villa.

Along with NRC, I was again really impressed with Curtis Davies. He seems to get better every game. He was our best defender by a distance, and also late on also made one storming run through the centre in support of a fast break, not a common sight for any team. Sadly no pass was forthcoming, but the intent and will was there.

Of the rest of our team, there were decent performances from Stuart Taylor, Olly, Freddie Bouma, Craig Gardner and but for 1 mistake, Martin Laursen.
Our passing and ball retention wasn't up to greal deal, but there was a bundle of energy, application, desire, resilience and so on. These things are all intangibles, but they don't appear by luck.

Luck did play a part in our second goal. Both the goals came midway through the second half, within a couple of minutes of each other - first a Marlon overhead kick from a nice knock down by Martin Laursen and then a ball actually handled into his own net by a Liverpool defender, deflecting an "Olly Volley" over and past the goalkeeper and defenders.

Marlon's goal came after he'd only been on the pitch for 5 minutes, and he'd already caused on scare for Liverpool, beating a fullback and pulling the ball back across goal, whereupon Carew took it away from the onrushing Petrov (attended by a defender) and then turned and shot weakly at the keeper.
To show how little i know about things, I was only just done bemoaning that Craig Gardner had been subbed for Marlon - I'd thought Craig was doing fine, and wondered whether Marlon would hold the ball up that well. He did. He was, in his short spell on the pitch, excellent.

A final thought for the supporters. The tickets were £36 each. The match was 
on the telly, away, on pretty grim monday evening. And 3000 Villans sold out 
our part of the ground. Which by my judgement is not only a damn good effort from all concerned, but an indication of the faith we have in our team, our club and our manager and owner.
 
blandy

2007 Away match Reports

 
 

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I'll take the Rain - Wigan Away report

 

In the post Christmas, pre-New year gap you tend to get games and days like today's. They don't really make the headlines, they don't make great viewing for a TV audience, or even, it has to be said for the sodden fans shivering in the ground. But they are an intrinsic part of football. They matter just as much as balmy, pinging the ball around, fantasy football games played in May and August. They are the sort of games that define the character of a side.

Let's be clear about it, it was a truly horrible day - The weather conditions were diabolical. In the old days of course, we used to get soaked standing on open terraces at places like Wigan, or Oldham, or other wet, red-brick towns a lot more often. In a way it was nice to get that reminder of those times long gone, again.

On the other hand, now that Football is a HD Event on Sky+ telly, we have become soft, used to multi-million pound fayre at 35 quid a pop in practically centrally heated state of the art stadia with perfect pitches, where rain and weather is something that goes on as a backdrop, rather that as an intrinsic part of the game.

Wigan though isn't like that and probably never will be. Thanks to them for the enlightened pricing from 5400 Villans
For sure the ground is of the modern age. Named after the company of the millionaire owner, the JJB stadium isn't really in the heart of the community, it's on the edge of a town trying to redefine itself for the 21st century. Plastic seats, happy shiny people, concrete and flags on sticks. But despite all that, in truth Wigan Athletic away in December is one of those occasions where however stylish the sports cars and suits of the players might be, the things that really matter are the eternal values of football in the winter in the UK. "Have you got the heart for it". "Do you fancy it" "Get stuck in lad".

The day started off with the rain rattling hard against the windows, awaking the Villa faithful from our post Christmas slumber, eager to get to the pub and meet up after too much time spent slumped in armchairs and couches, staring at the telly.

We convened in the centre of Wigan, familiar faces and friends rammed into the comfortable surroundings of a pub too good to mention. A hoard of VT'ers, and other friends and acquaintances too, all supping on the hoppy produce of varied breweries.

We all felt, to a man, I think, that we'd get something from the game, but we all also felt that the weather, the wind and rain would not make it an easy game. It would be one where we'd have to really show our mettle, compete with a revitalised Wigan and take our chances.

Reluctantly, we eventually left the boozer and yomped into the westerly downpour. 15 minutes of trudging, 5 minutes of pie munching and the game kicked off in front of a packed away end.

Truth be told it wasn't a great game, I can't remember much detail of slick moves and silky skills. The things that stay in the mind are the bobbles of mud churning up on the heavy pitch, the headers and tackles, the total commitment of all the players, of both sides. Shirts drenched, shorts coated in mud, studs clagging up with bits of turf.

Wigan scored first, a cracking header from a corner, right onto Marcus Bent's bonce (the announcer said it was Bent, though I thought it was Titus Bumble), in front of us. Not brilliantly marked, but superbly taken. Scott in goal without a chance of saving.
In that first half, the team were pretty even. I felt Villa were not quite right shape wise. Carew had gone off early, after maybe 10 minutes or so, with an ankle or leg injury after a tackle down the far end. Luke Moore came on in his place. That wasn't the problem. The problem I felt was that we weren't controlling midfield, weren't using the width of Maloney and Ash, and despite the excellent work of Nigel Reo-Coker Wigan were playing the game the way they wanted.

At half time I was thinking that the game was eminently winnable for us, but that we needed to just get Gareth Barry a tad deeper in his starting positions, to use the ball out wide, better, and hold solid at the back. That way, we'd maybe give the two forwards a better chance to get hold of the ball - something lacking in the first half.

The second half wasn't long started when we got an equaliser, not dissimilar to Wigan's goal. From a corner, GB found Curtis Davies (excellent all round) and Kirkland had as little a chance as Scott Carson did in the first. 1-1.

Now we were in business. Gabby was really causing Wigan problems, our defence was holding off the exertions of the Wigan forwards and Barry was really starting to run the midfield and dictate the play.

With about 20 minutes left, Ashley Young got right to the goal line, crossed in from the left and Gabby glanced in from about 4 yards out. Beauty. 2-1.

In a game of few clear chances it turned out to be the winner. We probably just about deserved it because of our greater quality, equal commitment and because the team had the nouse to hold on to the lead.

And then we went back through the rain to the pub to warm up.

Some marks and comments

Scott Carson - Sound, 7.

Olly - another solid performance from a player now comfortable at right back. 7
Freddie - same as Olly - solid 7
Curtis Davies - very good - 7.5 Pacy, strong, looked like a real player.
Martin Laursen - 7.5 - just what you want and expect from him. A game made for him, really. Splendid.

Wee Shaun - 6 - lively but didn't get as much of the ball as he'd have liked (Craig Gardner 7 - a game also made for Craig, did very well when he came on)
Ash - 6. Lovely run and cross for Gab's goal. Always a threat.
NRC - 8 - Top stuff today. Really played well.
GB - 8 - Tremendous drive, particularly second half. Skipper-tastic perfomance.

Big JC - 5 - not on for moe than 10 mins (Luke 6)
Gabby -8 - complete handful for Wigan.

The marks maybe high, for a game that was scrappy, but sitting down near the front, the commitment and effort was tangible and it was a real hard won victory.

Well done to all who turned up, Happy new year. Onwards and upwards.

 

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This Nation's Saving Grace - Sunderland Away Report

 

Just what you need on a cold, cold winter's day - a proper game of English football, in a proper stadium, with proper fans, committed and skillful players with plenty of heart. Rip roaring stuff.

We'd set off for the stadium of light on a cold bright and beautiful morning, looking forward, as ever, not just to the match but also to the journey across the Pennines from our NorthWestern outposts, Bicks and myself.

As it happened neither let us down. The scenery was staggeringly beautiful in the morning's sunlight and still, sharp, air. Thick frost coating the hills, clamping itself around the exposed skeletons of trees and tightly cracking the water in a solid, immobile grip. Sheep wearing thick, shaggy woollen coats munched on crispy grass, crows circled looking for easy pickings from anything that might have succumbed to the bitter night.

In the car, the chat was about what to expect from the game. Thoughts about needing to win to maintain the challenge, a point not being a bad result, but a defeat would be a real downer.

Fishing out the "Football Real Ale Guide" we decided on the King's Arms, 15 minutes walk from the ground. Good choice, good guide. It was, it turned out, North East Pub of the Year last year. Lovely beer, good service, and packed with people and bonhomie. A part of the life of England that is just right.

A walk to the ground, picking up some warming scoff on the way, we headed to where the Paul McGrath song was coming from and settled into position.

The teams - well ours was unchanged, and for them Yorkie was in midfield. The fans - probably about 4000 or so short of full up, the ground held plenty of expectant Villans and Mackems, and the ref, Mr Steve Bennett.

Both teams started with intent in a fairly frantic first 10 minutes, the culmination of which was Sunderland scoring from a corner. The marking, such as it was, was appalling. Is it this zonal thing, or is the marking just "off". Either way Higginbottom, (the announcer said) headed in from 6 yards.

Rather than give Sunderland a big impetus, Villa it was who upped their game. We got well on top, without creating serious clear chances. As the game moved towards half time, the pressure seemed to paying off, as a number of half chances came Villa's way. Carew coming closest to scoring with a flick which the keeper, down the far end, seemed to finger tip onto the post, and back out into play.
Sunderland broke back, but like most of their attacks in normal play, their move broke down. From set pieces they were more of a threat, though not massively so. Maybe it was just be being worried about some of our defending, but with both sides having plenty of big lads to pile in to the boxes, there was always a threat when either side had a corner or free kick.

The second half started as the first had ended, with Villa again having the lions share of the play, but Sunderland dealing with it, mostly, and being a threat, to an extent, on the break, though I didn't feel they had the quality to really punish us. Kenwyn Jones was not as good, fortunately, as he's sometimes seemed on the telly, but he did give Zat and Martin Laursen some competition.

Our forwards also struggled to get free in the danger areas. Gabby's touch was just not quite right today, and he was not the danger he has been, but he worked well. Big John was better, but we tended, I felt, to play too much through him, rather than make chances for him to get on the end of.

In one early spell Gardener, who had been booked in the first half, was inches from heading in at the far post, in front of us, but just couldn't quite reach the ball with his dive. It was Craig who came off, to be replaced by wee Shaun. The funky Cold Maloney gave us what we needed, more movement and attacking threat. SUnderland now had two tricky wide men to deal with. With maybe 20 minutes left, only 5 or so after he's come on, Shaun made a run across field, was bundled into and over by a Sunderland defender, 20 yards from goal, fairly central. A really good scoring chance. He took the free kick himself and Ward in the Sunderland goal didn't stand an earthly. Right into the top corner. Sweet.

One plum from amongst the Villa fans ran onto the pitch, harmlessly, but the eejit was rightly carted off by the stewards. No need. It doesn't take many idiots to spoil our reputation, make life harder for fans traveling to games.

The game continued in its' end to end fashion, now with Sunderland coming more into it again. Some last ditch tackling and blocking was effective for Villa, but it wasn't particularly well organised defending at times. On occasions we let men get free in the box.

Right on the death, Sunderland had the ball in the net, but the ref was giving a free kick for a foul as the ball was nodded in. No goal.

It would have been extremely harsh had we lost. On the other hand, though we had a lot of the play, we didn't make so many chances to deserve the win, really.

What to make of it all, then? Well, as an alternative to trudging round the shops as a prelude to the ever increasingly commercialised "Christmas Experience" it won hands down. It was a decent game, like I said at the start in a proper footballing place. The countryside, the pubs and the beer, the football, players and fans alike, are all part of this nation's saving grace. The ref was alright, better than Riley, anyway.

Some marks

Scott Carson - Sound. 6

Olly - decent game again. 7
Zat - 5. He doesn't always get it right, sometimes getting caught out of position, but today he recovered every time.
Martin Laursen - 6. He's not playing quite as well as he was early on in the season, but he was fine.
Freddie Bouma. Very good again from our left back. Had some shots, too, passed the ball better. 7.5

Craig Gardener. 5 - Committed and hard working. (Wee Shaun -7.5. Excellent appearance from Shaun, and a lovely goal)
NRC - 6 - some good break up work, helping out where and when needed, a decent game from Nigel, but still the pasing needs to improve.
GB - 6.5. Spent a lot of time further forward, when we were on top. By his high standards he is capable of more, perhaps.
Ashley Young - 7.5 - Again a good game from Ash. Frequently fouled, he just gets up and gets on with it. Lively and a threat.

Gabby - 6 - worked hard, ran hard, but not that much of a threat today.
Big John - 7. He's a big old unit. His hold up play was good, he made the defenders work hard and battle, and almost scored.

Lowest temperature on the way back - (minus) 5. Brrrr.

A final thought on the team - I think, despite our solidity away from home, we need at some point to make the transition to be more of a threat, creatively. GB and Ashley are more effective with either or both of Stan Petrov and Shaun Maloney also on the pitch. It gives the opposition more to struggle with, they get pulled around and out of position more. Add in Gabby's pace and JC's presence and the mix is right, but often we're a bit too one dimensional and predictable, still.

 

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Storm in a Goldfish Bowl

 

An alternative view on the so-called rigged FA Cup draw.

I read 
JC's article with interest. I've seen the pictures on the internet of the draw and the 24/25 balls.

All I can say is that in my view a tabloid paper has done well for itself in generating a story out of nothing.

But of course, as with any conspiracy theory tales, it seemed to generate a life of it's own. It was picked up by the local Birmingham paper and fans gave their views. It might be hypocritical for a website contributor to bemoan the tendency for the media to want to fill their pages and airwaves with the views of fans, but it's getting daft.

We're in the situation where a non-story has led to pages getting filled with quotes from fans about how terrible it all is.
Sorry, but that's just not "news". It's filler replacing journalism. Where's the investigative spirit gone? No need we just read the internet these days, cut and paste, article written. Now off to the pub.

JC put his view well, but I think it's misplaced.
a rather huge, elephant sized mistake has been made by the Football Association – and it is up to us, as Villa fans, to make sure that it is rectified.

Give over, John. "elephant sized mistake" - really? Ant sized non-story I'd call it.

it is now very clear that an error has been made in the draw, and it is no longer valid.
Manchester United were given the ball number 24 to represent them. Yet the ball number 25 is drawn out against Villa.


No. To my eyes, and many many others, just not so. You get some reflections from studio lights, but the ball drawn is 24. A grainy you-tube video doesn't make it not so, as a fact. That's not a mistake, it's a quirk of the light.

I'm all for fans campaigning against issues that they feel are wrong in the game, whether that be corruption, ticket prices, over-zealous stadium licensing jobsworths, kick off times, greedy chairmen, agents...the list is endless, but tabloid "filler stories" with no foundation other than some reflections from a studio light?

Sure it's a long shot that we keep being drawn against Manchester Utd. But that's the story, not "cover ups" and shennigans".

Was it Sammy Nelson who drew the ball out and is said to have then covered it up? this the player who bared his, er, cheeks, to the Arsenal crowd long ago, when playing for them. If he can't keep his posterior covered up, could he really cover up a dodgy draw on live TV, for posterity?....

John's on much better ground when he says I’m not worried about playing Manchester United. Aston Villa can beat anybody at anywhere

But then asks for the impossible The F.A need to either show proof that it wasn’t a mistake and simply ‘covered up’ by an old timer who was embarrassed and not being able to recognize a number correctly, or set the fixtures to be the correct one.

How could they "prove" anything. All they can do is look at the high def TV pictures, check it out and find that....it was actually all OK and above board. Which is what they've done.

Finally, John says One thing is certain. If a satisfactory explanation and result is not given, I will be regarding this tournament as void and will not be going to the game – and I suggest that you save your money from the F.A’s pockets, and do the same thing.

Fair enough, each to their own and all that, but it's the clubs who get the vast majority of the gate money, not the FA, and what the FA do get again much of that 10% goes back to the FA Cup pool. So, very misdirected, I feel.

Having said all that, I hope the next draw is improved so that people can see better. We used to jokingly think old Bert Millipede had it in for us Villans when we got a lot of away draws over a decade or so - the days of the velvet bag, and alleged "hot balls" and Bryon Butler on a monday lunchtime from Lancaster Gate on radio 2. It's clearer now. It's on the telly.

The FA can balls things up in so many ways, they're experts, but they don't need a conspiracy to do it, they have a gift for it.

Still, I confessed to hypocrisy at the top, and I've proved it by filling an artile with more guff on a non-story. Can I get an NUJ card now please, like proper journos have?

Next week's conspiracy theory:-
Steve McLaren is alleged to have been "any good" and thousands will immediately prove he wasn't....Oh, actually....

 

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bittersweet Symphony - Middlesbrough Away report

 

It's been a funny old week, on the International scene, or maybe not so funny for a lot of people.

Former Boro' boss Steve McLaren sacked for a string of poor results and poor performances from his player, Villa's excellent young 'keeper throwing one in after 5 minutes, and then looking like a Rabbit in the headlights for 45 minutes, though he did do well second half, for England.

If wednesday was a night they will want to forget, but never be able to, today gave one of them at least a chance to get over it in the best way possible.

The day didn't start with these thoughts in my head, it started rather bleary eyed after an excellent friday night seeing Half Man Half Biscuit in Blackpool.
The problem was cured by a restorative breakfast of Sausage and mushroom butties and a mug of tea. Works wonders.

So off to the Riverside we went, fellow VT'er Bickster having scooted up from Liverpool. The journey is usually a pleasure, a real highlight, almost, of the season's travels. But today, with the blustery wind, rain and spray it wasn't so fine. There was still the odd glimpse of the majestic scenery, a buzzard circling, geese making their way to one of the many nearby lakes and the giant turbines harvesting wind.

On arriving in Boro we nipped in to the pub for a couple of pre match refreshments - some kind of Lincolnshire Ale, it was. Very nice too.

Then on to the ground, a walk in the wind to the stadium across the road from the town. The ground was not exactly packed, nor indeed was it expectant. Apart from a fair number of Villans noisily chanting in the away end it was quiet and sullen. Boro' had apparently been dreadful for a while, their fans expected to get tonked.

One thing that was expected, and duly arrived was the reaction to Scott Carson - roundly jeered by the Boro' fans, roundly cheered by us lot. It's a bit "pantomime" really. "It's behind you" now, Scott. Well and truly, after today.

The new pantomime Villain is former Villan Gareth Southgate. Someone I rather like. I don't get how he has been essentially rejected so firmly by so many Villa fans. He was a splendid player, a nice bloke, and he was right about Villa at the time, even if his leaving was a bit "off".

At least today he wasn't abused (not by the Villa fans, anyway), he was merely taunted as to the score at various points, asked politely for a wave (request declined) and had his future career path laid out for him - "You're getting sacked in the morning".

So the Boro fans came to bury young Scott, and in the end another undeserving, decent man, got the hardest time. It's only words, no-one died.

But enough of that, how did the game pan out?

Well, it wasn't a classic. Boro started better than us, and after maybe 5 minutes or so, almost scored - Downing clear of Mellberg shot at goal, hard and accurately, from the angle. Scott Carson made the save....just. The ball missing by an inch or so, after he managed to get a block in. Such fine margins. He was cleary nervous - some iffy kicking revealed as much, and was clearly being gee'd up and supported by the Villa players, as well as fans. That save, early on was really one of only two he had to make all game. The other being after maybe 75 minutes, when he was back on song.

So with Scott redeemed, how did the others do?
Not brilliantly, it has to be admitted. But not badly either.

For 35 minutes, with Boro the less bad of a bad pair, the game sort of scuffled along, not helped by the ref, who gave some bizarre decisions.

It was at this point that Martin O'Neill did something simple, but very effective. He moved Ashley Young to the right, put Barry left, and it clicked immediately. The shortfall had been obvious - Ash wasn't getting the ball, and there wasn't really anyone playing wide on the right.

The last 10 minutes of the half, with Villa stepped up and better set out, we got on top. Zat Knight got the ball at the back, came inside the onrushing forward and knocked it out to the left, where Freddie Bouma, who was very good today, headed back to Gareth Barry. Nice cross into Carew's feet, a swivel holding off Woodgate and a shot into the bottom corner. 45 minutes, 1-0. The police rushed to form a barrier in front of the Villa fans, for some unknown reason. They were very efficient at it, well drilled. Top marks from the Sarge, no doubt, though I guess they get a lot of practice, maybe.

The second half was not long started when we got a nice second goal. Ashley Young pressured a Boro defender, nicked the ball, and although there was no goal from it, we did get a corner. Ashley took it, in front of us, a defender went to clear, but hooked the ball back to another defender...Olof Mellberg, who controlled and lashed in like Gabby. So much like Gabby that it took the announcer and the fans around me to explain that it wasn't Gabby. I was wondering why Olly looked quite so chuffed.

It wasn't long before we got another goal, Boro' by now starting to misplace passes, and generally look a bit disheartened and ragged at the back and in midfield dropped another clanger. This time it was Woodgate. A long ball down the middle from Carson, bounced towards Woodgate, with Gabby closing in on it. Woodgate let it bounce, Gabby nipped in and biffed it past Schwarzer. Red faces and red shirts.

For Boro, Boateng was trying to turn the tide, Johnson was playing very well, and with spirit, but the rest....
They'd started off using the flanks well, Alliadiere was like a proto-Bergkamp at times, one turn was glorious, but as the game went on, it was clearly a lost cause.

Villa were sharper, more confident, and more dangerous. Craig Gardner on for Petrov again nicked the ball, passed through for Gabby to collect, beat the defender and hit the post.

Boro had possession, but did little with it. The game meandered to a close. The Boro fans meandered out of the ground, miserable.

At the final whistle, the players thanked us for our support, as did Martin O'Neill, holding up 3 fingers. 3 goals? 3 wins in a row, or 3 more years? I hope it was all three (at least).

I hope Gareth Southgate sorts out his troubles, I hope Martin O'Neill stays, I hope Scott Carson continues to play well for Villa. I hope Nigel Reo-Coker stops with the daft tackles (booked again).

Some marks

Scott Carson. 6 - not that busy, nervy early on, but fine by the end. Clean sheet, again.

Olly - 7 - up against Downing who was good, done a couple of times, but solid, and one extra for the lovely goal.
Freddie Bouma - 7. Just a really sound defender, and helped with the first goal.
Zat - solid. 6
Martin Laursen - Ditto. (Curtis Davies, confident, but not on long enough to mark)

Ash - bright, 6
NRC - worked hard, not the best passing at times, but did his job effectively. 6
GB - 6. Not at his best, but fine.
Stan Petrov - 6. Looking sorted, now. (Craig Gardner - bright when he came on. it would have been his sort of game, 6)

Big John - 6. Stuggled for a while, but battled hard, nice goal. (Wee Shaun, nice touches, didn't get the ball so much, though.)
Gabby - 7. He earned his goal by his performance, and in the actual move itself. Man Of the Match.

The marks may seem low, for a 3-0 win, but to be honest, Boro weren't too good.

 

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stay Hungry - Bolton Away report

 

Some match reports are as easy to write as scoffing a kebab after a night out. The match might have been a veritable chilli sauce coated helping of juicy lamb and salad, perhaps with the pickled chilli peppers of classic goals or a simmering atmosphere to accompany it.

Other reports are rather more "school dinners" - all a bit of an effort, something you feel you know you should do, but which to be honest isn't that appetising, and in fact is something that's been said thousands of times before.

I'm afraid children, it's time for your overcooked cabbage and meat of indeterminate origin, with watery tapioca to follow. There's no Jamie Oliver round these parts.

So here we go.

After the (for me) short trip to the Reebok, followed by, naturally a couple of amenable pints with fellow VTers, Bickster, LancsVilla and Aston, it was a saunter to the ground and up to the top tier of the away end.

The first thing noticeable was the amount of empty seats in the place. The Trotters are clearly uninspired by the appointment of Megson and their rubbish start to the season, the Villans perhaps put off by the ridiculous prices, early kick off and TV showing. I mean what kind of git charges 32 quid for this type of game? "Your Ground's too big for you" we sang, and it is the way they're going. It can't have had 20,000 in it, which is pitiful.

Back to the culinary theme, and Villa's line up was a hotch-potch. Ozzy was in, theoretically on the right, Stan Petrov back in the middle, Shaun on the left, and Ashley supporting an isolated Gabby. Zat Knight luckily for him, kept his place.

The game was a sequence of disorganised play, little of quality happening. For us, the formation was a mess. The side unbalanced, the players appearing lost. Olly was getting skinned by Diouf, Ozzy was wandering inside, not getting tight on men, and when he found space, the easy ball to him was not forthcoming. Neither Ash, nor Shaun were really getting at players and Gabby was chasing lost causes. Stillian Petrov was the single player playing well for us. Personally, I was glad to see him back in. He's a proper footballer, with a brain. He did well after his recent dip in form.

Bolton, of course, scored. From a free kick, of course. Given away by Zat knight, of course, though it was perhaps harsh - as much backing in as pushing. The otherwise anonymous Anelka lifted the ball over the wall, and Taylor might have got to it, but didn't.

Bolton also might have had a penalty, as the ball seemed to hit a defenders arm, from about a yard away, so maybe it also struck a Bolton player, or maybe the short distance it travelled counted for us. Or maybe the ref was as unsure as I was, exactly what happened.

Half time and we were saying, "please Martin, just play 4-4-2, give Gabby some help, fill that big gap on the right and we'll be a lot better".

He did, and we were. Paddy Berger came on for Shaun, and played on the left, Luke came on for Ozzy, and Ash moved to the right.

Ah a shape. We were better without being particularly good, but it was at least "right". Barry came more into the game, Berger was looking to link with Luke and the players appeared happier all round.

We equalised when Gabby escaped down their left, cut inside and lashed the ball across, perhaps aiming for Luke, but it was deflected at pace, past Jaskaleinen. Bolton complained because the ref had over-ruled the linesman, and they had gone to sleep.

After that, Bolton kind of reverted to the Allardyce tactic of long throws and set pieces, we just about coped, though they should have scored when Diouf, I think it was, shot over from a yard after GB had cleared badly with his right foot. In the first half Gabby had missed a chance from a rebound off the keeper following a shot from Shaun. It was one of those days. I thought it would end 2-1 to someone, but there were no more goals, no Jam for the tapioca.

So some thoughts and marks from the game.

Well done to all those supporting both sides who turned up. Well judged to those who didn't.
The manager got the team wrong, but at least rectified it at half time.
It was nice to see Stan Petrov back and playing well, Ozzy showed glimpses again of how he's come on, and he was perhaps sacrificed tactically rather than for performing badly. Shaun Maloney is popular with the fans, and rightly so, but it didn't quite happen for him today. That happens. Keep your head up Shaun. Next time, you'll make hay.

There needs to be a bit more hunger, sometimes, to win. It seemed we were happy to get the draw.

Gav McCann got a nice round of applause, and JLloyd got some stick from some. Neither did anything to show that they should still be at Villa. But good luck to them, especially Gav.

Marks

Stu Taylor 6; Might have saved the free kick, distribution OK without being as good as Carson's is.

Olly; 5- Looked uncomfortable, but not helped by the wierd formation first half.
Freddie Bouma; 6 - good defensively.
Martin Laursen; 6 - won everything in the air, caught out a couple of times.
Zat; 5 - Did OK, a couple of moments of concern.

Ozzy; 5 - lost on the right, but some nice touches, and he was finding space well. Needed to help Olly out by getting tighter on Gardner and Diouf.
Stillian Petrov; 7 - MoTM for Villa. Kept us alive, really in the first half, consistent.
GB; 6 - Much better second half than first.
Ashley Young; 6 - delivery not the best today, boundless energy.
Shaun; 5 - one jinky run and powerful shot, some nice play, but a bit peripheral.

Gabby; 7 - played well again, horribly isolated first half. 

Subs Paddy Berger 6 and Luke 6 - both had a big impact in terms of settling us down. They linked well and held and used the ball well. Luke could have put in a bit more effort towards the end, I felt, but maybe that's harsh.

Time for Tea.

 

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Daydream Nation - Man City Away Report

 

First things first - anyone reading this before the match "highlights" come on the telly - don't bother staying up for Match of The Day - get some kip instead.

That said, I suppose I'd better make a few jottings to explain why, and what went on, or didn't.

I must admit that until arriving in Manchester, or shortly before, I was under the (false) impression that it was a 2 pm kick off. Checking my ticket I was a bit surprised to find out it was actually a 4pm game. That's the problem, really (not my general numb-brainedness) you just can't settle into any kind of routine. TV has done for us match going fans. Perhaps today was a bit of revenge. Up yours, Sky!.

Before that though, I should mention that arriving at 11:15 for a 4 pm kick off does at least allow for plenty of pre-match refreshment time. And so it was that Bicks and myself, and later Scott and his mate from Leicester were able to chatter and sup in the centre of Manchester, before getting the bus up to the COMS.

By now, feeling more than a bit peckish after all that beer, we scoffed down some hearty northern pies, pasties and hot-dogs and took our seats. The ground was far from full, and far from noisy. In fact it was soporific and unexpectant. Yawning gaps in the stands, yawning fans in the occupied seats.

45 minutes of football took place, in which almost precisely nothing happened. Scott Carson made a good save, City cleared a couple of shots off, or not far off, the line. But it was dull, sterile, tedious and uninspiring. Both sets of fans, normally pretty noisy, were barely able to rouse so much as a murmur.

Half time. Relief.

But within minutes of the restart, the promising Alan Johnson, for City, ran past Nigel Reo-Coker, kept on going, and finished very well.

Rain. You could see the clouds gathering before the rain came, big, black, monolithic beasts, hanging in the Sky. I guess they got bored, too, and decided to dump their contents as a sign of their discontent, or maybe they just do that anyway.

With the worsening weather, there was some increase, though not much, in the atmosphere, and some increase, though not much, in the tempo of the game.

Carew was replaced by Maloney, with wee Shaun going wide and Gabby into the middle. Later Bouma, who had been decent, was replaced by Petrov, and Reo-Coker, who had been poor, was replaced by Gardner. Barry went to left back.

It didn't really make much difference.

As we pushed further and further forwards to try, rather rubbishly, to get an equaliser, City had some half chances on the break, and they almost got a second, but Barry running back, cleared off the line after their man had gone round Carson.

To be honest, I'm struggling to write this. The antisceptic, nature of the game and the day has just about done for me. The trains ran on time, nothing to moan about, but I do feel the players, and manager will regret that they didn't give it the full gun, as BFR might say. One step forward, one step back.

Some marks
Scott Carson - 7. One good save, some good distribution, too.

Olly - 6. OK
Bouma 7. He was good and unlucky to be subbed, I felt. (Craig Gardner 5)
Martin Laursen 6 - OK
Zat Knight - 6. OK, too.

Gabby - 6
Nigel Reo-Coker 4. Disappointing. he's either very good or poor. Nowhere in between, it seems. (Petrov 6)
Gareth Barry-7 our best player, again, but he needed his team mates to give a bit more, today.
Ashley Young - 5. Not so effective today.

Big John - 5. Mostly harmless. (Shaun 5 - didn't get enough ball)
Luke - 5. Likewise. Worked tirelessly though, which is something he hasn't always done.

 

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mountain Energei - Newcastle Away Report

 

So to our second game of the season, to be witnessed from the upper slopes of St James' Park, Newcastle. Another tea time O'Clock kick off, thanks to those oh so considerate TV men - though for once the later kick off suited me. It meant a leisurely morning and a drive up to SJP, at a civilised time and still plenty of time for some convivial beers with fellow VTers, Bicks and Chris, in a local bar before making our way to the game. Good chat. Thanks.

After doing my usual daft thing of speeding up the multitude of steps to the concourse, I had time to catch my breath and wait for Bicks and Chris to more sensibly amble up.

The view from the seats never ceases to amaze. It's bloddy miles high. You can see both Spain and Iceland from the away section (possibly). I detected the annual migration of the buffalo across the tundra, too. You can also just about make out the pitch, in the far distance, many fathoms below.

Anyway - the match. We started with a similar team to last week, but with Stuart Taylor perhaps unluckily making way for Scott Carson (dressed as a banana) in goal.

Being as it's quite late, now, typing this, I guess that you will know it was 0-0. But it wasn't a bad game, nor was it a belter. It was one of those "good point" away from home type results, where we perhaps had slightly the better of things, but didn't do quite enough to win. I felt we had the better chances, though neither keeper was overly troubled on too many occasions.

Early on we definitely had the better of the game, Martin Laursen who had a visibly exasperated Viduka in his pocket all afternoon had a header from a corner brilliantly saved by Harper, Gabby streaked clean through, got caught, won the ball back, and then instead of squaring to an unmarked Ashley Young decided to shoot himself, rather lamely. It's at times like that that you don't know whether to curse his greed or applaud the fact that he got there in the first place. Bit of both I guess. He'd certainly looked a threat all afternoon, and Newcastle were wary of him.
He doesn't though seem to link really with Carew. They're just two forwards, rather than a partnership. Carew was a lot better than last week, but still didn't look completely fit, though he maybe took an knock early on, again.

We played with different tactics to last week. Ashley Young stayed wide, and had a great game, full of energy, not just going forwards, twisting and jinking, but also helping out defensively. He caught the eye again.

Others who played really well were Martin Laursen, who was immense, Olly who was tidy, and Nigel Reo Coker who didn't impress me at all last week, but this week was a bundle of energy and looks to have slotted in perfectly. He made some great runs and surges forward, and almost scored a blinder after a long run. He's got his own, unique, song now, too.

In the "did OK" group were most of the rest of the team. Barry looked to be caught on the ball just a bit too much, Petrov was classy in patches but not quite convincing, though he did make a great chance for Carew to lash miles wide. Barry did similar for Petrov later on. He missed too. But it looks like the "dinked" cross to the far post might have been part of a plan.

Talking of which, the overriding impression of the two teams was that they are both exceedingly well coached, but both lack a touch of invention. The players of both sides were clearly playing to a plan, but neither side was quite able to break the shackles of the opponents. For us, it's quite pleasing to see progress in away games, where we won't be "undone" easily. For Newcastle fans, perhaps remembering how they used to blitz sides with abandon, it's maybe not so edifying. It can be a bit "samey" the Prem. All sports science, defensive tracking back and endeavour, and slightly lacking in spontaneity. The teams that can either afford or develop and also accommodate the extra ingenuity will be the ones who prosper. 

Back to the players that were on the pitch, in this random ramble, Bouma was defensively excellent, as we've come to expect, but wasteful at times with the ball, and offers little offensive support. Craig Gardener on the other side was again defensively undone several times, and isn't a full back, but he did a job there, for the team.

Luke Moore came on as a sub with maybe 20 minutes to go and looked lively. He links well with Gabby and Ashley and is making himself available for the midfielders more than perhaps he did last season. We seem to play more as a team with him on the pitch.

Scott Carson was reassuring in goal - one first half save was excellent, and there were few, if any, misunderstandings with the rest of the defence, though he was scarcely troubled, truth be told. Looks a good signing, though.

There's only two more things to say. 50,000 people can make a lot of noise, and they're great fans, the Geordies, but there were only really about 2000 of them, and 2000 of us singing in the ground, up in the Gods. It used to be bedlam, before they enbiggened the ground. Shame that's gone, that atmosphere.

And finally, the drive back. being later than usual, I got to drive through the part of the country with the best scenery, but at twilight, and it was great. Though grey and rainy, the half light, the low clouds and the lack of towns and industry across the cumbrian and northumbrian hills interspersed only with the occasional lit up edifice of a giant factory, seemingly generating clouds, or perhaps mining for grit or clogs, or black puddings was like something out of Lord of the rings, or maybe a Bond villain's lair.

I'm glad football's back. Watching the cricket on the telly in the pub, made me sad that summer never really got to happen, this year, but today was good. Villa will be fine, too. We've got good players, are well coached, good support and just need something adding. If we get it , we could be really good.

 

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summerbreeze

 

I read Mike's PR, Promises and Perception article concerning, in effect, the raised expectations of the supporters at Villa park, and wondered whether within it there is a perhaps valid criticism of the communication from the club to supporters regarding transfers.

So I thought I'd try and look at it from the other side, and see how the view panned out, and what if anything needs to be done, could be done.

The club has been taken over by new a new owner and his team, and has transformed itself, with a great deal of time, effort and commitment, not to mention money, from those people into a different club. One that clearly is genuinely intent on returning to the top echelons of the English, and one day, European game.

I feel that the club will think (rightly) that the changes in relationships between themselves (players, manager, officials, board) and us lot are much improved. Better atmosphere at games, bigger crowds, more season tickets sold and so on. 2 way dialogue on VT and elsewhere about all aspects of the club except transfers.

So far so good - except the transfer thing?

Well yes and no. I would imagine that the perception from the club of us lot is slightly mixed.

They've had a lot of praise (rightly so) for many of the things they have done. Both publicly and in private, and I believe they genuinely appreciate the heartfelt thanks response they've had for their actions. So that's nice.

Transfer wise, up to yesterday, the feedback, too, has been positive, and they'll have been pleased.

So this boils down to the reactions to the news of Marlon's signing. Reaction has fallen into perhaps 3 camps

a) Good. The manager wanted him, the board backed the signing, we got our man.
B) Bad. Marlon is not the sort of player I rate. We should have signed [someone else]
c) We've been lied to, I want my season ticket money back, it's a disgrace. The club is just the same old club it was, talking the talk in the transfer window to get sales of season tickets up.

The first 2 views seem fair enough to me, for a fan to hold. The third completely unfair. I would guess the club are somewhat bemused to get such, er, strident, comment back.

So is it the fans (well a portion of us) who are out of order? Or is there something in what they say? Mike seems to suggest communication from the club is lacking, and thus contributed to fans feeling strongly that they have been "let down".

If he's right, How could this area change?

Should or could the club have not said that they want to succeed and "walk the walk"?
The answer is they could have said little on their aims and ambitions. But this would have been a mistake. As new and unknown owners, there was a clear obligation on Randy and Co. to spell out to the fans "how it's gonna be".

Well should they have been more communicative in this area then?
"We want to sign 6 players - a forward, 2 midfielders, a goalkeeper and 2 defenders (or whatever) and we have a budget of (say) 22 million pounds"?

There's two flaws with this approach (at least).
Spelling out the detail of your transfer plans is not a good negotiating tactic.
Spelling out your budget is not a good negotiating tactic

Saying exactly what you want and getting it are 2 different things. Clubs may not want to sell, current players may wish to move, or offers might come in, which change your plans - where you end up, and where you started from are often a way apart.
Overall result - your negotiating position is weak, you end up giving yourself more chance of failure than success - leading to fans, who you were trying to please, exceedingly unhappy.

Well what about regular updates, instead, then?
"we're going to be going for a fullback from Europe in the next 10 days" (or whatever).

Result, alert rivals to your next move. Get the press tracking your moves and intentions. Outcome - reduced chance of failure and miffed fans and furious manager. Mistake.

Compared to the options so far, the one they actually took doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Practically speaking, no clubs truthfully say who they are after when they will sign them and what their budget is. They have found over time that the best plan is to keep schtum and try to get on with things out of the glare of the insatiable demand for information from media and fans.

But still, there is a part of me thinking Mike's got a point, to an extent. How did we get to a situation where so many normally rational people appear to have lost all sense of proportion? Surely something can be done to address this?
Perhaps we should go back to what the General has said? "I'm not going to discuss transfers - that's MO'N's remit"
In this case then, maybe MO'N should discuss them just a little bit?

I don't mean individual players, targets or fees, I mean where he sees the squad, overall.

It's been striking to me having read hundreds of pages of comment on just one transfer that MO'N pretty much universally escaped any criticism, whilst poor old Marlon and Richard Fitzgerald came in for loads of "comment".

It seems that the manager, the man who really matters in all this, might be the solution, then. After all Martin O'Neill is a very clever man. Shrewd, great with people. Canny.

I think maybe a few words from our leader would be helpful, just from time to time, on how things are progressing. How he sees the squad progressing, where he's still looking and working to improve matters.
We got a taste of it towards the end of the season - Gabby will maybe not manage another ever present season and I want to help him a bit" was the gist of one tidbit. And it was good. a couple of lines, job done in that areaa.

It doesn't take much to add that he would be looking therefore to add a forward to the squad who would neither block Gabby's progression, nor break the bank and detract from strengthening in other areas. He wants someone fast and powerful as an option, someone with something to prove to people....etc" or words to that effect.

Surely there's a positive in there - a popular player in Gabby is helped, and equally expectations (wildly stoked by vivid imaginations) are aligned realistically. Would we (some of us) be going freaky mental if this had happened?

This type of thing even now, would be in my eyes a good move. Maybe in respect of the defence and defenders at the club, or another area. No need to spill any beans, but just an inkling?

Maybe something about whether there are plans in the pipeline for other notable signings. That's all.

Of course if there aren't then maybe the lesson is that what Richard Fitzgerald intimated was out of kilter with what MO'N intended to actually do? And if so, maybe MO'N and Fitz should better co-ordinate what they say and do. In this case, had Richard Fitzgerald said that the new people at the club, including the manager, had reviewed the season, been hugely impressed with the progress made by the youngsters, had identified the need for broadening the squad width, but felt that he introduction of too many new faces in one go would be counter productive, that they felt that 2 or 3 additions or replacements would be necessary but that (for example) Martin Laursen's fitness and form, combined with the progess made by Gary Cahill...etc blah blah meant that major surgery is not needed, that a chance to continue had been earned....etc" then expectations again, would be managed.

Of course, there's another aspect. We may yet be adding further to the squad, I believe we will. I believe that Marlon Harewood will be a useful player at Villa Park, I believe that despite the furore the club now is in good shape and good hands.

Maybe the lesson is simply that it's the silly season and we all get affected and talk drivel to fill the gap.

So to our proud, bemused, but very welcome American board I can only say, welcome to an English Summer. May you experience plenty more.

 

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Inner Flight

 

Musings on how NRC might fit in

It's one of the strange facets of life that if you know you have to get up early - to catch a flight say, you're not gonna be able to get a proper kip in, even if you go to bed early, because you subconsciously know you dare not oversleep.


So it was that last night, on the day that it was reported Villa and West Ham had agreed to swap Nigel Reo Coker for a bag of dollars, I was due to fly early the next morning.

Unable to sleep, my mind wandered onto the long anticipated signing. I can't say as I've got an opinion on him. I don't remember noticing him stand out any time I've seen Villa play West Ham (perhaps he wasn't in the team - I wasn't going to get up and scour the interweb for confirmation), but it occurred to me that managers tend to pick players they sign, especially when they cost a bundle.

So I was thinking - next season's midfield.... Last season's midfield.....got to get up at 6.... Barry and Petrov looked good together in the middle.... is the alarm set?. Gardener developing nicely, but can't be expected to play every game. Luke Young really came on a bundle - where's NRC going to play?
It didn't add up in my sleepy head.

I mean put Petrov and NRC in the middle and Barry has to go left, and Ashley Young right, but Barry is better in the middle. So if Ash goes on the left, then Barry is in the middle. Turn off brain, and go to sleep. Gah, dammit.

Basically, I was confused. Where is the shape?

Villa found some form when Gav dropped out and we had more creativity in the middle, but somehow, good as we looked at times, I felt that a strong midfield (i.e. a top 4 midfield) would win out over our 4. The signing of Nigel Reo Coker by MO'N would be to address that, I was sure.

Suddenly it's 1 am and I'm still awake.

Maybe, we'll play 3-5-2. That way it all fits together.

3 at the back from Olly, Martin Laursen, Gary Cahill, Ridge, Freddie Bouma, Mark Delaney, - defenders all. Mmmm. Seems possible.

5 in midfield centred around NRC as the ball winner, with GB and Stan Petrov either side, and then 2 of Ashley Young, Craig Gardener and a new player to provide the width (GB could go left Young Right and Gardener into the middle as an option).

Then up front we've currently got 2 from Big John, Luke and Gabby.

That kind of fits.

So we need as a minimum another winger/wide player, for the right side, and another forward (please not Germaine Defoe, I can't stand him. Too London for me, too cocky for his ability).

And then I fell asleep.

The plane was delayed, and I might as well have had a lie in.

 

Sunday, May 13, 2007

where i end and you begin - bolton away report

 

So that's it, then. Another season done and dusted. It's been a mixed bag, with an underlying theme of improvement and optimism. Today's game exemplified why.

The day started with the short trip, for me, to Horwich and the Bromilow Arms, where, some fine beer ( the local flat cap) was taken, and end of season chatter was had with fellow Villans from the North West. (Credit again to Bickster for taxiing it all the way from Liverpool).

After our pre-match sharpeners we walked down to the out of town shopping mall and football dome place that is the home of Bolton Wanderers. We knew I think, what we'd get. They might have lost "Big Sam", but the players are still the same - all big, strong, fit lads, with a bit of ability, a good team ethic and an awkward style of play, to both play against and to watch.

The first 20 minutes or so, in the Lancashire rain, were pretty end of season uneventful. The game wasn't a great spectacle. Villa playing the same team as last week were relaxed, but not lackadaisical, Bolton were their usual selves.

It was around about the 20 minute mark when they scored, in front of us. A knock down in the box, less than diligent marking and Gary Speed finished well. Sloppy, really by Villa, but exactly the sort of awkward thing Bolton excel at.

Fortunately, Villa have a spirit and ability about them these days that means we don't take setbacks as anything more than temporary blips. Within 5 minutes Craig Gardener had scored an absolute blinder. A volley as the ball fell over his shoulder, from Big John's knock on, on from the corner of the box. it was unstoppable. 1-1 and the game reverted to it's middling fair. Plenty of people seemed as interested in scores from elsewhere, a sure sign that the game wasn't riveting the attention.

There were a few scrapes at each end, and injury to Tommy, caused by a fair challenge as he hesitated with a defender over who was going to deal with a ball, and Nolan, I think, caught him on the hand, with his studs.

The second half saw Stuart Taylor on, and Bolton swap Anelka (off) for Idan Tal.
Bolton had more of the play for the first part of the half, and another failure to clear a ball in left Davies to score, similarly to Speed in the first half.

For a while, Bolton were well in control, and they looked perhaps more likely to get a third, than we did to equalise. The Villa players looked tired in comparison to the Trotters who were after a European place.

Martin O'Neill decided to replace Patrick berger with Luke Moore, and a bit later, Freddie Bouma with Steven Davis. Both substitutions worked well, livening up the side and adding threat and invention.

You just know with Luke, that given a chance, he'll score. He did again. Lovely play by MoTM Ashley Young a ball in from the goal line, and Luke Volleyed past Jaskelainen before he could blink. The last 10 minutes then saw Villa pressing, then holding on, then Bolton playing for time, presumably because of scores elsewhere.

Referee Clattenburg blew his whistle for the last time this season, the fans, many Villans in fancy dress, cheered and applauded the players off. Martin Laursen threw his shirt into the crowd, hopefully he'll stay.
It rained some more and I was home in time for tea.

Some marks for a fairly ordinary game.

Tommy 6 (Stuart taylor 6)

Aaron Hughes 6
Freddie Bouma 6
Olly 6 - never seems to do well against the physical sides.
Martin Laursen 7 - we'll seriously miss him if he goes. I hope his fitness stays and his knees hold up.

Patrick Berger - 6
Gareth Barry 7
Craig Gardner 7 (1 for the fabulous volley)
Ashley Young 8 MoTM - full of confidence and tricks.

Big John - 6
Gabby 6.

So, for the next 3 months, while cricketers huddle from the rain, tennis players fleetingly take centre stage and papers talk of transfers and intrigue to fill the space, we'll recharge out batteries, rest our throats and watch as the club continues to improve.

We started brightly, dipped and then came again. That's the beginning sorted, now comes the hard bit.

Thanks to all the players and staff, the barmen and barmaids, the fellow claret and blue travellers and even the odd train driver. See you all in August.

 

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hello Sunshine - Man City Away Report

 

Global warming - don't ya just love it?

The season is almost at an end, and in the north west of England today, the sun shone, warmed the bones and made promises of things to come.

But being northern dwellers, Jon, his Bro and myself protected our pasty winter complexions within the shelter of a packed boozer near piccadilly, watching the SKY telly game from Goodison. Can't be too careful, what with them ultra violent rays beating down from the heavens.

Anyway, after pleasant chat and pleasant beers, we trooped on up to the upside down space spider that is the COMS, home of low (should that be "No") scoring Manchester City. So did around 40,000 others. about 3000 of them Villans, the rest being of course the fans of the also rans of manchester. Their support is numerically excellent, but on todays evidence, sonically dire. Not as bad as their team though.

The game, which let's face it, was not one of the weekend's more important fixtures, kicked off lively enough. City were perhaps the brighter, early on, but truth be told, both sets of players looked a bit enervated.

Olly and Martin laursen seemed to be handling the efforts of Mpenza, Samaras and Vassel pretty comfortably. Neither goal really looked under much threat.

After this initial "getting to know you" period, Villa started to come much more into the game from an offensive viewpoint. But still to not much effect.

Then, in the calmness that is only present when the game means not so much, I knew we'd score, before we did. Ashley Young wriggled on the left, beat his man and put over a terrific cross. I was certain, even before seeing Carew head it superbly into the corner, that we'd score.

It all looked so pre-destined, in that moment. All those worries about bogey sides, Darius and poor records in Manchester rendered meaningless and groundless by a bloke taking on the defender, crossing, and a big lad heading in across the keeper. Simple game, Dunno why we get so tangled up.

In the end of season sunshine Gareth Barry was the one player on the pitch who really looked like it meant something to him. He had a top game this afternoon. Ran it, really. Others did good too, but GB was the stand out.

Nevertheless, with Halsey refereeing, you just can't take things for granted. Shortly before half time Tommy turned away a City shot for a corner, the corner was crossed in and Tommy, in coming for the ball, was either prevented from getting it by Vassel, merely didn't get there with no one being at fault, or if you're Mark Halsey, fouled Darius heinously and gave away a pen.

Joey "youse lot are all sh*te" Barton, showed his average team mates how to do it, by, er, tonking the pen miles over the bar. Diddums. :)

Half time.

Second half was much more one sided, Villa were well on top. Not as much so as at Boro a week or two ago, but nevertheless, we looked easily the more able side. Really I suppose, we should have made more of this superiority, but we never looked like letting one in....until Mpenza got clean through, following a foul on Carew, not given, City broke quickly, but Tommy saved excellently in a one on one.

Carew was subbed off, not long after, Shaun Maloney replacing him. You know your luck's in when a sub comes on and scores straight away. It happened at Boro with Luke. This time it was wee Shaun. A free kick maybe 28 yards out. Wall, keeper, etc. Easy. Ball over the wall and into the goal. Keeper static. It was the second time I knew we'd score before we did. Wierd. 

City fans streamed, sullenly, to their exits, Villans stayed and enjoyed the last 15 or 20 minutes.

Game over. Job done.

It wasn't a classic, I doubt MoTD will be able to make much of it. It was all so end of season meaningless, in the wider context. For Villa though it wasn't meaningless. Apart from the duty of the players to damned well earn their devotion and their money, there was the issue of ending a "hoodoo", of keeping on the improvements so that next season starts on the right lines, of fighting to earn their places in the team. No game is truly meaningless to the fans, and nor should it be to the players.

Some marks

Tommy - 7 - Crucial saves,

Bardsley - 7 - Did well defensively, best game for a while from him.
Freddie Bouma - 7. You know the thing, without me saying.
Olly - 7
Crazy Horse - 7 - the pair of them were on top of their opponents throughout.

Craig Gardner - impressed again - 7
Stan - He had another good one. 7
Ashley Young - A lively 7
Gareth Barry - Didn't put a foot wrong, ran the game. 9

Big bad John Carew - 7 - looked a bit unfit, but effective. (wee shauny 7 - lovely free kick)
Gabby 7.

City were pants.

I haven't had a moan about the trains for a bit. SO here we go. Coming back tonight, and this is true, the train announcer (on the train) said "we're not stopping at [any of the stops] as we're running late" 4 minutes late, that's all! Consequently...well you can guess, but how daft is that? - People stood by platforms as the train howled past, having to wait another hour because the fecking driver must have been on a promise. Utter twunt. Grrrr.

It didn't detract from a good day all round, though. But North West trains are still ****s.

 

Saturday, April 14, 2007

All Tomorrow's Parties - Middlesbrough Away Report

 

It's always the best journey of the season, for me, Middlesbrough. Not necessarily the best game, or the best away ground, but just the best trip.

The reason why is the scenery on the way and today it was even more beautiful on the way back. The sun's gentle rays alighting in their soft, evening, way on the ancient landscape between the East and West of the country. Lambs with their little black heads trotting and mewling after their shaggy coated mothers in their stone wall enclosed fields, Lapwings twirling and wheeling, like black and white mini-stukas. Crows waiting for fresh road-kill. Marvellous.

I'd set off this warm morning in hope. Hope because of recent better performances and results and hope because Boro seems to be a lucky ground for us. Lucky in that we always seem to play well there, even if we lose.

The Riverside is a similar distance from Lytham as is Villa Park, so, it's not exactly a home game, but it's not to difficult to get to, at all, and with the aforementioned glorious scenery, I got my kicks on the A66 (except the bit with the roadworks, which was a pain - still I should have got up early enough to catch the train, but there you go, another story..).

My arrival in 'Boro was made all the more pleasant by meeting up with PMS from VillaTalk, his lads and Jan. We talked of Blackpool, Edinburgh and Vodka aversion, and last year's tonking of the 'Boro over a couple of drinks and some food and then meandered our merry way to the ground.

It sits there, spaceship like, or maybe just ship-like, on the waste-ground the other side of the A66 from the town centre.

And so to the match itself.

I guess most people will know the result, 3-1 to Villa, and I think it was a fair reflection of play.
The game had started off with both teams playing the ball around nicely, a couple of chances for Villa - Shaun Maloney should really have scored, clean through, but turned instead of taking the ball on, and the chance was gone. He hit another long range effort left footed, which Shwarzer tipped for a corner. Anyway, the play was bright and tidy, neither side had any fear or any massive objective to chase, but it was entertaining. Then Boro were given a free kick about 25 yards or more out. Rochenbach (the announcer said) hit a powerfull shot past the wall, but Tommy was well positioned, and caught the ball half on his chest, half in the crook of his arm....and then let it squirm through and trickle into the goal, at his right hand post.

Some of the maybe 1800 or so Villans cussed and abused, some chanted Tommy's name. Me, I just thought, hey ho, it's team game, all of us need to make up for the error.

And we did. The goal had come after about 20 minutes and by half time we were level. Phil Bardsley, I think, played Gabby through, and his run down the right and subsequent cross found Craig Gardner unmarked in the middle to finish nicely, for his first Villa goal. Gabby's rocket heels and endeavour troubled Boro all game.

With the goal coming just before half time we went for our half time refreshments lifted.

The second half was much more one sided than the first. Villa ran it. The previously slightly tentative Ashley Young and Phil Bardsley improved and the rest of them maintained or lifted what was already a good standard of play.

With each side attacking their own fans we got to see plenty of Villa pressure and skill. While George Boateng is a fine player, he was outplayed in midfield by Stan Petrov and Gareth Barry, ably assisted by Craig Gardner and Ashley Young. All game Martin Laursen and Olly were well in control of the tricky Yakubu and Freddie Bouma has his side sewn up, too.

Perhaps 20 minutes or so into the second half Luke Moore came on for Shaun Maloney to freshen up our control of the game, and within a couple of minutes he was celebrating. A free kick played in by Ashley Young was headed down by Martin Laursen and Luke swiveled and shot past the blameless keeper. Luke looked mighty pleased.

5 minutes later, we were further ahead. Barry picked up the ball, passed nicley to Petrov's good run, Petrov slipped past the defender and shot into the corner. Sweet for Villa, sweet for Stan, and sweet for my friend Yordi (a Bulgarian), next to me, who would collect Stan's shirt after the game.

Despite the sunshine outside, in the shade it was cool, and Villa kept their cool too, to easily see out the rest of the game.

Steven Davis (lively) and later Aaron Hughes had a run out. All was well with the world.

Some marks

Tommy 5 - His distribution of the ball was good, he wasn't that busy, but he did drop a ricket. Still it happens.
Bardsley 5 - Still learning, plenty of time to get the necessary "nouse"
Olly - 8 - Dominant
Martin Laursen 8 - Dominant - the two centre backs were absolutely rock solid.
Freddie - 7. Good

Craig Garner - Worked his socks off, scored a nice goal - 7.5
Stan - Lovely finish, lovely passing. He knows how to run a game when we're on top 7.5
GB - Class, as always - 7.5
Ashley Young - eager, 6.5

Shaun Maloney - 6.5 - another youngster with time on his side.
Gabby - 8 MoTM - Full of it today. A right handful.

Subs - Luke 7 (1 for the goal) - he scored, That's what forwards are there for.
Steve Davis - 7
Aaron Hughes not on for long, 6.

We played keep ball, we passed and moved, we entertained. Let's hope that our tomorrows bring more of the same, but better.

 

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Sunny Road - Blackburn Away Report

 

A sunny Easter Saturday saw 4000 Villans in Blackburn Lancashire.

Spring, don't you just love it?

Certainly today was a beautiful day. The early morning mists cleared to make way for a blue sky and short train ride to Ewood for my local game. One of the highlights of the season for an exiled Villan is to be able to make just a short trip to the game, rather than endure hours travelling each way.

The local train pulled into Blackburn, and 4 of us went for a few sociable pints in the Adelphi. "Black Sheep" was drunk, perhaps in recognition of recent feelings about a few of the team. There were a few concerns about the line up, but I felt nervously hopeful as we caught the bus to the Fernhurst, closer to the ground.
The beer's a bit averarge in there, but standing in the sun, meeting with a veritable horde of VTers, no one seemed to mind. The fans were boisterous but well behaved, as we wandered into the ground.

After a quick meat n'potato pie (they had no brown sauce, which is shocking) I settled down to watch Villa control the game. All the action seemed to be down the far end. Villa's midfield probing and passing, and Blackburn doing little but defend.

Friedel, that excellent shot stopper, was at it again. Last season he'd played a blinder in the correspondng game, though Baros had been hugely wasteful. This season, with no Baros, and his replacement out injured, we played with "wee Shauny" and Gabby as a tiny tots front two. No matter, they posses speed and trickery and with Berger giving a bit of a masterclass Villa were well on top.

Like last season though, things didn't quite go to plan. Blackburn got the ball up to the Claret and Blue packed Darwen end, Gamst-Pedersen ran into the box, Bardsley tackled and down went MGP, for what looked like a delayed dive and a penalty. Somewhat soft, I thought. McCarthy lashed into the corner.

Villa didn't bat an eyelid, we just kept attacking, and before long had equalised. Bardsley crossed, and Paddy Berger in yards of space seemed to flick the ball past Freidel with the outside of his heel.

A bit of justice. We should really have been winning, but parity was the least we deserved.

Straight after half time, Villa got a very dodgy penalty for a handball. Right in front of me, Craig Gardener, playing on our right, on the edge of the box, knocked the ball into a Rover. He couldn't get out of the way, really.

Up stepped Gareth Barry, and after a delay he powered the ball from the penalty, but Friedel made a stunningly good save. I guess the ball was perhaps too close to him, but still, the power of it, and the ability to keep it out, rather than divert it into the goal was impressive.

Blackburn, perhaps sensing their luck was in, and revitalised by their Manager making a number of substitutions, started to get on top a bit.
Happily the ever popular David Dunn was closed down, Berger collected the ball and rolled it through for Gabby to zoom onto, round Friedel and roll it into the net.

It was at about this point that I lost my voice, and the last 15 minutes took an age to pass. We were now under the sort of pressure that I'd have expected us to be under for more of the game. Free kicks and corners, headers, shots - they all seemed to be down the far end, now. Tommy and the defence stood firm, though. Aaron Hughes came on for Bardsley, Gav for Berger and Steven Davis for Maloney.

Rovers hit the bar, we had a couple of breaks, and eventually the game ended. Huge relief was evident amongst the players and fans. A number of the players threw shirts into the away end.

And then the Big Screen showed that the other Claret and Blues, Burnley, had triumphed at the Sty. Further cheering and joy.

We have had far too few of these sort of days in recent seasons, but it was immensely enjoyable.

The only thing left to do was go for some more beer, and then a curry.

Some marks
Tommy - 7 very assured

Bardsley 6 - daft challenge for the pen, otherwise sound. Assist for the goal (Hughes 6).
Bouma - 7. Rovers had no threat to us from his side.
Olly - 7.5
Martin Laursen - 8. Both centre backs did exactly what you want them to.

Craig Gardner - 6. Solid on the right.
Stan Petrov - 6. Sat back a bit, but was tidy and cleaned up a lot and kept the ball.
Gareth Barry - 8. Missed a pen, could have scored a couple more, but played well, as ever.
Patrick Berger - 8.5 MoTM. Superb. Won the ball, held the ball, passed the ball, absolute quality. (Gav 6)

wee Shaun - 6 can be pleased with his efforts (Steven Davis 6)
Gabby 7 - Far, far, better through the middle. Looked confident. Took the goal superbly.

Just a top top day out. 
I hope and believe there will be many more to come.

 

Sunday, March 04, 2007

London calling - Fulham Away report

 

It's perhaps not the fashionable thing to say, but I'm going to say it nonetheless.
London - Brilliant!
A couple of days spent down in and around our capital village included a trip to Craven Cottage, yesterday, to see the Villa play. The game was "unremarkable" but the weekend was excellent, here's why: -

Because I was working near London on Friday, I decided to stop down on Friday, rather than return to my Northern Eyrie and then travel back down on Saturday at daft o'clock.

It turned out to be a good decision, not just because I got a lie in and a leisurely breakfast, but because it allowed me to be impressed by our capital city and the people who live there.

The train in to the centre gave me views, through the friday rain, of various landmarks and points of interest - Battersea Power station, still missing it's large inflatable pig, the millenium wheel, that Gerkin shaped building in the distance and so on - a sense of the size of the place was transferred to my weekend-ready brain.
Stopping at Putney Bridge for the night meant only a shortish walk to the ground and plenty of pubs and life to explore on the friday evening. So I did.
It was dark, wet and cold, but the pubs were welcoming and warm, and the beer, mostly Fullers London Pride, was excellent, if a tad costly. The 8 Bells, the Golden Lion, the Old Spotted horse and a couple of others were part of my route. The locals were friendly and the weather forecast for saturday promised an end to the rain.

Saturday morning and a walk to a cafe for a sausage butty and mug of tea, or to be more accurate a sausage and plum tomato baguette and pot of tea. Very nice, but 6 quid!. The french staff were a surprise, but like the asian staff in the hotel and the polish shopkeeper in the newsagent they were enthusiastic and friendly, rather than sullen.

Walking off the calories and beer in the morning sun, I wandered around by the river. Joggers with their earphones and sweatbands plodded past, rowing eights with their coaches megaphoning instructions from motorboats flottila'd at regular intervals up and down the Thames. All that exercise made me thirsty, so I wandered on up to the pub, the Old Spotted Horse, again.

A couple of very amenable hours were spent chatting away to Paulo, Nigel and a small horde of london based Villans, plus people down from Brum. There was a match on the box, but no one paid much notice. The Bombadier Ale was most excellent.

Another walk, back across the river, down the towpath and Craven Cottage was reached, nestled up against the river and amongst the posh houses and flats. It's a little treasure of a ground, with a cottage in the corner next to the neutral and away fans and the old stand on our right. Lovely. There's a few executive boxes tagged on to the edges of the home "end" and a bit of structural tarting up has been done to the seating arrangements, but it's still like a "proper" old English football ground. Long may it remain so.

Readers may have detected a lot of waffle and not a word about the game itself. Well now's the moment for that word. "Mediocre".

It let the weekend down a bit, did the game. And it down let the fans, crammed into every seat as we were. There were plenty of Villans there, too.

Villa attacking us lot scored first, to much delight, John Carew just prodding home Gareth Barry's neat pass. Fulham had previously hit the post down the far end, and took only a minute or so to equalise. A free kick crossed in, Bocanegra (the announcer said) unmarked, ran in to head easily into the goal. One of Petrov, Mellberg or Bardsley was presumably meant to be marking him, but, well, they weren't.
Fulham had the best of the rest of the game, perhaps, but not markedly so. The ref was inconsistent, like the game. The pitch looked bumpy and uneven, and only Gareth Barry stood out, for me. Easily our best player, again, though Carew did well, too. Mellberg defended solidly, though Radzinski caused him some trouble. Laursen did his knee and went off to be replaced by Gary Cahill. The poor bloke just has no luck, does he?
The last 5 minutes, plus 4 minutes of stoppage time, saw Villa have a good spell of attacking pressure, but a win for either side would have been unjust.
We looked, I thought, not cohesive and a bit unbalanced as a team. We seemd more weighted to the left side, until late changes in the second half. Definitely a "work in progress".

Writing this on Sunday morning, after eventually getting back home about midnight, my abiding impression is of how much I liked London and the people who live there. I even saw a drive by shouting on Putney high street - 2 red-bus drivers, going in opposite directions have a ding-dong, with gestures and everything, out of their cab windows. Wow. London rocks!

Marks:
Tommy - 6. One horrible miskick aside, he was solid.

Bardsley - 5. Did his job.
Bouma - 6. Looked the business.
Olly - 7. Led the defence well.
Martin "crazy horse" Laursen -5 and a knee injury (sub Gary Cahill 6).

Stan Petrov - had a decent game, happily, 6
Gav - did the Gav thing - 6
Gareth Barry - MoTM 8. Quality play from the skipper.
Shaun Maloney - 6.5 - lively, I thought. (Sub Gabby - 5)

Ashley Young - 4. Started wide, moved to the middle when Gabby came on, largely invisible.
John Carew - 7. Big, strong, quick-ish. Scored, made the defenders work hard. Well played.

It was always going to be a draw. Craven Cottage is a good draw.

 

Monday, February 05, 2007

Half a Year Away - 6 months into Martin O'Neill's Reign

 

This post is unashamedly going to focus on the changes the our manager has brought to the club.

It's 6 months to the day, today, that Martin O'Neill signed on the dotted line. Of course there have been many many other changes to the club, not least the long, long awaited and dreamed of take-over, and enough has been written about that, so this one's for Martin.

What's he "done" then?

Well, pretty much the first thing he did was to get Gareth Barry to stop thinking about leaving and to sign a new contract. He told him that he could achieve his ambitions at Villa, that he was an important player, part of his plans and that he could definitely get back in the England squad.
Gareth believed him, and believed in him.

And guess what. England play on Wednesday and Gareth, after being our best player consistently over the season to date, is in the squad.

Villa benefit, GB himself has benefitted and England will benefit. Brilliant. It set the tone, and could turn out to be the best bit of "business" he'll do while at Villa.

Luke Moore had also been unsettled, but before his injury he was back in the team and happy.
Some players have been allowed to go and play elsewhere, but the majority of the inherited squad have stayed and have by and large raised their games.

We "knew" when Martin O' Neill came that players rate him. Now we've seen it for ourselves.

Of course, we were also told that Martin O'Neill is a miracle worker. This has turned out (unsurprisingly) not to be true, despite early suggestions that he might be.
We drew the first game at the Emirates. Usually in recent years we have been roundly horsed at Arsenal. But this season it was different. Backs to the wall it may have been, but it just wouldn't have happened without Martin O'Neill. It led to usgoing on a long unbeaten run - results were frankly beyond any expectations, particularly as he was unable to bring players in, as he might have liked. The takeover wasn't completed until well after the August transfer window closed. He did manage to get Stan Petrov in, and Chris Sutton and Didier Agathe as they were "free agents".

These three have had differing fortunes. Petrov started superbly, faded with injury and has only just come back into the side.
Chris Sutton looked handy, but suffered a head injury before Christmas and hasn't played since. He's apparently still unable to play for medical reasons.
Didier Agathe came and looked decidedly average, and went away again.

The team struggled on, wins became somewhat rarer, draws became defeats, extremely hard draws in the 2 cups meant early exits at both Chelsea and Man United - where our emergency on-loan 'keeper slipped up somewhat.

Injuries took their toll. Some fans started muttering darkly about "another false dawn" and began to ask questions about the manager's tactics or ability. Others, the majority, pointed out the state the club had been in when Martin took the job - players forming a disorderly queue to leg it, totally fed up with what had become of the place They pointed out the squad had hardly proven itself adequate over the previous 2 and a half years or so.

But with the the January transfer window allowing the club and the manager to further demonstrate how things have changed and to actually "do it" rather than "talk about how they can't compete/promise and not deliver (delete as applicable)" we signed 3 forwards and an on loan right back.

We've struggled to score goals all season, so the front players were naturally the issue most fans wanted addressed. Luke Moore injured, Baros disappointing and disinterested, JPA having faded and Gabby bright, but perhaps tiring needed some help (or shipping out in the case of Milan). 
2 of the new 3 have played 2 games each. The partnership has brought 2 goals between them, a promising ability to link up with each other, pace, skill and physical presence. It's far too early to make accurate judgements, but they look like part of the solution to our problems. Most impressive.
The third forward, Shaun Maloney, was signed only at the last minute, and sat on the bench on Saturday.

What about the rest of the side, then. How has Martin changed that?

First off, the spirit of the team is massively superior. We fight back. We don't give up.  
It's one of the major pluses for me - it shows that the club is "whole" again. It's great.
Supporters believe in the manager, they see the players fighting to do well, the players respond - a virtuous circle is beginning to emerge from the depression and negativity of the past. It was more noticeable in the away games to start with. The core of the club's support could see the change and we weren't backwards in roaring our approval. At home, things have been a bit slower to catch the mood, but it's being caught.

All this is opinion and intangibles, but to me it's important. It's stemmed from 2 things, or 2 people (but involves a lot more than that). The 2 people are Martin O'Neill, with his passion, humour, openness, intelligence and eccentricity and from the previous owner, chairman, finance director and God knows what else, finally, finally doing the right thing and leaving.

Martin O'Neill, for me has done everything and more, that could reasonably have been expected of him. He talks to us lot, more than just talking he communicates and invigorates us, he doesn't patronise us, or moan about us. He's the same with the players, I'm sure.

Throughout the period we were struggling for a win, there was never the sense that there was any "Oh, Crikey , I don't know what to do" or "It's not my fault". There was no bickering, no unattributed talk of players bickering, or criticising.
It was hard to take, but I'm proud that the club kept it going, that the fans didn't turn on the team or the manager, that the players got up, dusted themselves down and gave it a go again.

It's not all been roses, the league game at Old Trafford was galling - the team selection and tactics didn't work, the players seemed beaten before they started. We were, by all accounts, rotten against Manchester City, at home. But show me a side that doesn't have a stinker or two over the season, and I'll show you the league Champions, and even then....

There's a massive way to go. No one knows what will happen over the next few years. No one knows if the last 2 wins over relegation threatened sides, in Watford and West Ham, will turn out to have been the start of the next stage, or still part of the end of the last stage.

But I'll tell you what, It'll be fun. Relish this fun, it's been in short supply at Villa Park for too long.

Thanks Martin.

 

Friday, January 26, 2007

The good in Goodbye - cheerio to L'il Lee

 

Well it looks like Lee Hendrie has left, or is about to leave, the club he's been at since, well, forever really. I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts and good wishes for our (former?) impish midfielder.

I first saw Lee play for Villa in a reserve game at Deepdale, Preston, sometime in the early '90s. He was just a young lad then, full of promise and tricks, battling against physically stronger players in a pretty competitive game. He shone in that game, with his touch control and vision, and I've had a soft spot for him ever since.

After signing professionally for Villa in May '94 he soon made his debut, brought on as a late sub at QPR. Perhaps typically as it turned out, he was immediately the centre of attention - being sent off by the not-at-all-lamented ref, David Elleray for two soft bookings - the first for a harmless tackle and the second for taking a free kick that had been awarded the other way.

But the setback didn't stop him becoming a more regular feature in the side under Brian Little and then John Gregory.

An appearance many will remember as one of his finest was out on the left at home to Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA cup quarter final at Villa Park. We were knocked out on away goals, but not until a rousing fightback had just fallen short. For all that Stan Collymore affected the game with a tremendous goal, it was Lee's dynamic running and skills down the wing which brought about our fightback and inspired the team and really got the ground belting out some noise.

Here was a player who seemed to intuitively link up with the more intelligent football brains in the side. Play him in the same team as a Merse, Angel, Collymore and the link up play, little dinks and dragbacks really worked magic. He often should have scored more goals, but he made up for that by the sheer enjoyment he exhibited when he did score. There has never been a player that looked so happy to score, or for Villa to score.

Lee had a period where he was just about the best player in the side, shining also for the England under 21 side (along with Gerrard and Lampard). This led to him getting his only England call up under Glenn Hoddle, and he seemed to take to it straight away, coming on as a sub and almost scoring a great goal after a typical jinky run.

A change of England manager saw him drop out of the squad though. What might have been...

Lee began to suffer some unfortunate injuries, ankle problems and a need to put him back in the team early due to a weak squad meant that he played while not fully recovered. This led to a drop in form and some fans accusing him of being a "bottler" from tackles. Very harsh to my eyes.

He also did some pretty stupid things on the pitch, frequently irritating refs and opponents with his chuntering, getting wound up too easily and occasional displays of petulance. Bookings and sendings off accrued, none of them for anything malicious and most completely unnecessary. He promised to grow up, but never quite managed it.

He had disputes with fans who got on his case. Some "supporters" never got over the fact that his Dad is a Bluenose. To them that made Lee a 'nose and therefore fair game. I preferred to look at 300+ games for the Villa and his joy at the club doing well as evidence that he is one of us, and always will be.

Along with this split opinion of his heritage and whether people liked him for his talent, or didn't like him for his attitude at times, is the perennial argument that "he didn't make the most of his talent" (and therefore is a waster) - He seems to invite strong opinions either side, with no middle ground.

There are not many players for which so much would be written and talked about that doesn't have direct reference to his playing ability.

For me though I'll always remember watching him play well and the feeling I had that he is worth the admission fee, or a good part of it, on his own, when on song. He scored some absolute belting goals, went mad in celebrating, had the bottle to take and score a pen at Wembley in the shoot out against Bolton and is one of my favourite Villa players of the past 15 years or so.

I don't suppose he'll change now, Stoke will get performances of real quality, examples of stupidity, great goals and vision and some so-so games from him in a ever changing mix. He'll be value for them, and in a game said to lack characters, he's a character alright.

Me, I wish him - and hence the Stokies - the best of luck and will follow his progress with interest.

Thanks Lee. Up the Villa.

 

Sunday, January 14, 2007

My Imaginary Friend - Wanna Season ticket?

 

Sparked by a debate on the VillaTalkmessage board about season ticket benefits, I thought I'd write down a few thoughts.
There's lots of different angles to look at season tickets from.

They divide into 3 groups - things the club wants, things the fans want, and things both want.

Things we both want are fairly easy - a full and vibrant Villa park for every game, having fans go in the areas of the ground that suit them best - corporate and business types in the Trinity centre, families in a child friendly area, noisy beer monsters behind the goal(s) in the Holte and maybe Witton end and so on.

Things the club wants - Up front revenue, happy fans (less customer complaints, more customer satisfaction), the optimal return on sales - it's a curve of some kind, where if they are "too cheap" they'll sell loads, but be down on revenue, yet if they are too expensive they will sell few, and be down on revenue again. They basically have to be priced just right.

Things the fans want - Value for money. Assured seat - sit with friends/family in a place of your choice, access to "first dibs" on other tickets (away games, cup matches etc). Ability to get extra tickets for friends/relatives

Pretty much all of the other things (some) fans want may actually not be deal clinchers.

For example - programmes, discount in the shop, C&B mag, etc. could be made available seperately to all who want them via some other scheme - a membership or some such. Fans could then choose whether to be a season ticket holder, a matchday fan, or one of these plus a scheme member. I'd include away tickets in this but suspect the numbers of tickets available make it essentially a season ticket holder only thing.

The lists are by no means exhaustive, they're just some examples.

In terms of incentive to sell/buy tickets, there's one huge factor above all others: The Team.

There will always be a large number of fans who want to demonstrate loyalty regardless of the quality of the side, simply because they are Villa fans, and that' what they do. BUT this can't be taken for granted (I don't believe it is, by the way).
Nevertheless clubs with excellent teams and squads and managers sell more tickets. It's undoubtedly the hardest part to get right and sustain for a period , but if they do then I genuinely believe that Villa like many other Clubs could fill the ground consistently.

There seems to be a lag in ticket sales and attendances of a season. So if a club has a good season, then the next season will see gates go up, even if they struggle in that next season. And vice versa. The reason for this is "hope".

Once you can turn hope into reasonable expectation, or high expectation (that if you go to the match you will see your team win) then you've got to a point where you are maximising the benefit from the Team as a sales tool.

Because Villa has been up and down between top 8 and bottom 8, we've never really built up much hope, let alone expectation.
We need to get to consistent top 6 level and still be pushing on to get the ground full. Not one season then finishing 10th the next year, but several seasons of upwards progress.

I've wandered away from the point of the original post. So while I've done so I'll go back to one of my bugbears and just point out something on ticket prices.

The sheff U away game cost 15 quid and sold out the entire gound despite monday night telly. Brilliant!
Wigan and Blackburn have done similar and seen much improved gates. Charlton do something similar too, and have been for a while, for some games.
Yesterday Man City Fans boycotted their game at Bolton (as they did at Wigan) because of what they (rightly) saw as excessive greed or exploitation by the home club in charging nearly 40 quid for tickets for away fans, partly no doubt based on the games being local derbies and City having a large following.
We've seen small heath do the same to us (and Man U) a year or three back charging nearly 50 quid for tickets.

Next season, TV money will be 65% higher for the clubs. They simply HAVE to set reasonable ticket prices, or the grounds, many of them will be half full. And no one wants that. Not the clubs, not fans and not TV.

 

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Cistern Failure - Man Utd Away Report

 

I'm at somewhat of a loss (much like Villa again) as to how to approach this "report".

Should I merely state what I saw? Should I try to analyse the thinking and reasons for what I saw, or I should I instead go for a deeper analysis as to the state of the club?

I'll maybe try and do a little of each.

Right.

The first half was THE most inept, listless, beaten before we went on the pitch, wrong team selection, utter letdown disgrace of a performance for a long time. It was worse than much of O'Leary's drivel. It was that bad, it really was.

Before the game kicked off, things hadn't initially started well, what with all the pubs we tried being shut, for some unknown Mancunian reason. So we went for a cup of tea. Fortunately after our cuppa, we found the Peveril had opened it's doors, and Jon, Pants and myself were able to take a number of pre-match refreshments. Fine work fellas. Thanks.

After the Tram ride up to the ground, and a greasebomb burger (with onions and brown sauce, natch) I was able to hear the team announcements. Olly back in, Aaron hughes in midfield and Steven Davis on the bench, along with Lee, JPA, JLloyd and a spare keeper (not sure which one). Tommy was back in goal and Ozzy kept his place, with Stan injured.

I thought we must be going 3 at the back, but no, it seemed like 4-4-1-1 with Gabby wide and behind Milan Baros. What the heck was Aaron Hughes doing in the middle of midfield? Beats me. Needless to say he looked lost.

But things got worse. Villa were sloppy, tired, listless, second to the ball, poor of passing, ideas and movement. Shocking. By the time United scored, from a Cahill mistake - a mishit, rushed, clearance straight to Pak Ji Sung (or whatever his name is) United had had several good chances. Tommy had made one excellent save.

It didn't take long for them to get another, Carrick this time, from more sloppy play by Villa. Marking? Closing down? Nah, feck it, can't be arsed. Tommy should perhaps have saved it, too. It was hard to tell from the angle I was at, but it wasn't the most powerful shot, and it wasn't right into the corner.

A third came, Gav giving the ball away stupidly, a cross and Ronaldo headed in. Utter tripe from Villa.

I've heard the phrase "United didn't need to get out of second gear" in many reports in the past. Frankly they didn't need to get out of first gear. We hadn't got out of bed. We were absolutely shocking. All the things we have come to expect from Villa were absent. Work-rate, closing down, battling, any quality of distribution.

Villa fans sulked and tried to rouse ourselves by taunting the silent Mancs. "your support is flipping poor" being the gist of it. Kindly enough they didn't bother to respond and point out that our team was "flipping poor".

Anyway, half time came. Subs were made. Bouma went off, JLloyd came on, with Barry dropping to left back and Jlloyd into left midfield. Aaron Hughes went off and Steven Davis came on, but went out right.

Villa were better, though it would have been impossible to be worse. I would imagine that the Old Trafford decorators will have to re-paint the paint back on to the walls of the away dressing room. I would guess that MO'N might also have apologised for a stupid team selection. He should have. He got it badly wrong.

Anyway, Baros looked a bit more energised, Davis added a bit of energy, and the team got stuck in a bit more. The passing was still wayward, Ozzy in particular being guilty.
Nevertheless Baros wriggled down the right excellently, and crossed from the corner of the dead-ball line and the box to the feet of Gabby who couldn't miss. Well done Milan.

Lee Hendrie was warming up in front of us, with JPA, to much acclaim, and being Lee was also "bantering" with some friendly Mancs. Some things don't change.

United had more chances, we had the odd one or two.

Rooney got himself booked, eventually. Earlier Barry had been booked by a pretty poor ref. Howard Webb was it?. Jon (2) next to me called him an "Establishment fascist Lackey", which whilst maybe not strictly true, summed up his performance.
Someone put their studs through Olly's thigh and got told off. Barry fairly and equally challenged Neville, and Barry got booked.

We lost 3-1 and I went home.

Now for some attempts at explaining/reasoning.
The team selection - no, sorry, can't think of anything. How does Aaron Hughes suddenly become a midfielder? How do either Lee Hendrie or Steven Davis get left out for him?

The listless performance in the first half - well, last week we gave a monumental effort, and got beat in the last minute. "we gave it our utmost and failed, therefore we will not beat them" seemed to be the attitude, if only subconciously.

The poor passing, lack of movement and the general second to the ball-ness? Well, Fergie, I guess would have told United that an early goal would probably knock Villa right back, that Villa would do what they did last week and so United had to make sure they had good energy and commitment to match Villa. They did. We didn't.

The second half, United just cruised, never expending unnecessary effort, but they were still the better side, due to quality, though we won the half 1-0.

Frankly, we were toilet. It must stop, and stop now.

Marks

Tommy - 6
Olly - 5
Gaz - 5
Ridge - 5
Bouma 5 (Jlloyd 5)
Gav - 5
Ozzy - 3
Aaron Hughes - 1 ( I'm not slating him, he just might as well not have ben on the pitch. He was invisible. Not his fault. He shouldn't have been in midfield. If by some possibility he was supposed to be at right back, Olly spent the whole game there, anyway) (Steve Davis 5)
Gareth Barry - 6
Milan Baros - 6
Gabby - 6

 

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Still Waiting - Man Utd FA Cup Away report

 

Another trip to Old Trafford for me today, to go and watch what turned out to be a pretty decent game. 
I guess everyone who reads this will have seen the game televised live on the box, so there's not much point me detailing what went on, on the pitch. 
You'll know that Man Utd just scraped through after a late, late, howler from our on loan keeper. 
You'll also know that United and Villa both played pretty much their strongest sides, and that United's is "somewhat stronger" than Villa's. 
You'll have observed that Villa battled absolutely fantastically all over the pitch to try to make up for the gap in quality and United's home advantage. 
I was particularly impressed with the improvement in Isiah Osbourne. He had easily the best of his few games for us, and assisted "Mr 110%" - Gavin McCann - in making sure that we chased and harried and tackled and fought for every ball. 
I also thought that both Ridge and Gary Cahill had good games at the back. Aaron Hughes raised his game from the disappointing level of his recent performances, and Wilfred Bouma also had another good game for us. He's starting to look, defensively at least, a very good left back. 

Gabby didn't manage to get much change from the United defence, and looks to be needing a rest. JPA won headers, but looked toothless and Milan Baros, on for most of the second half got the goal that Villa deserved, and the Upper tier of the East stand were pleading for. 
Talking of which, the view from up there is good, and it's nice to be able to take more fans to Old Trafford than the normal 3000 we get in the corner. The fact that it was a cup tie and that there were more of us there than we're usually allowed made for a better atmosphere, though like many grounds the place is a lot quieter than "the good old days". 
There's not much more to add, really. I feel a bit deflated, but not let down. 

It rained, the trains and trams ran on time, and I'll be back next week. Hopefully for a different result. We've shown we can compete, if we give it our all. The passing needs to improve, but I would imagine that in the long run, this run of games against Man U (3 times in a month), Chelsea, Spurs away and so on will benefit the players. 

So far our standards and heads haven't dropped, despite being up against it with things. That'll stand us in good stead in the longer term.

 
blandy

2006 Away Match Reports

 
 

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Turn On the Bright Lights - Spurs away report

 

Slightly later than normal, due to the intervention of Christmas "trimmings" here's the match report from the game at Spurs yesterday.

London, you've got to love it, haven't you. I mean there it is bloomin miles away from the chilly north, at the end of a succession of motorways, complete with roadworks and associated queues, and the Police seem to want games there on boxing day to start far too early - certainly not at a convenient time like 3 pm.

Still, I got there in time. And London has got a ferris wheel by the stream, and I think the post office there has a new collection of commemorative stamps - probably celebrating the fact that the ground of a London team called England is now into it's second decade of being built, or something.

Anyway, it's been a while since I've been to Spurs - they've rebuilt the away end of the ground, so no more atmospheric but ancient wooden stand, instead they've done a good job of homogenising the ground into a 2 tiered enclosed affair. It's not bad at all, though no doubt they'd like it to be bigger. Then they could employ more stewards to tell people to sit down every 5 minutes.

The game? - Ah yes, the game. I didn't really fancy Villa to get anything from it, and that's how it turned out. Spurs are good at home, and Villa have found the effects of lack of numbers and quality catching up on us.

For the first half, certainly we matched Spurs. We were competitive in midfield, and neither set of forwards was getting much from their opposing defenders.
Villa despite the announcer initially claiming that Lee Hendrie would playing! had a similar side to the Man U game, except for Baros replacing Sutton.

The action in the frst half mostly centred around midfield. Gav was excellent, accompanid by Craig Gardner in the middle the two of them were winning a lot of ball, and Steve Davis was right on form - energetic, good feet and despite again being played on the left, he looked a classy player. Gareth Barry at Left Back was equally excellent, and the game to and fro'ed with neither keeper being particularly troubled. Gabby got through (almost) a couple of times, but Robinson dashed out and smothered. Kiraly for us had a couple of shots to save from Spurs lively looking forwards. They both impressedme - Berbatov hasa fantastic touch and Defoe was all twists and turns and runs off.

Unfortunatly as H-T approached, Mellberg and Hughes collided in throwing themselves in front of a Berbatov shot, and both were doomed to go off injured - Hughes on a stretcher straight away, and Mellberg at H-T, limping badly. From my view in the lower corner it looked like Olly got hughes studs in his thigh, and Hughes got clattered on his knee. Ridge came on for Hughes, with Olly doing 10 minutes at Right Back, till half time.

So the second half started with Gardner moved to Right Back, Bouma on at Left back, Barry moved to Left mid, Davis to right mid, Petrov (who had played poorly) off, and Baros and Gabby still up front. Oh and Ozzy on (for Stan).

It took maybe 12 minutes for Spurs to score. We lost the ball in midfield, it was knocked back through and Defoe was clean through and scored. Can't blame Kiraly, but the initial pass lost was careless and the defence napping a tad.

Unfortunately Spurs started to create a bit more, with their forwards certainly enlivened. They duly scored a second - another good goal from Defoe, beating Cahill and lashing in.

But Villa didn't give up, despte the 2 goal deficit, despite the injuries and re-organisation.

Gareth Barry wriggled past about 3 defenders, shimmied Robinson and rolled the ball into the bottom corner in front of me.
So the game heated up a notch, Martin O'Neill was waving Villa to get forwards at every opportunity, but the pressure came to nought.

So what to make of it all?

Well, positives and negatives. In no particular order.
Spurs are a decent side, and will do well. Their forwards are good, Ledley King was excellent and they deserved to win, just about.
The ref, Uriah Rennie, had a very good game. When he first started in the Prem, I liked him - he was up with play, explained what was going on, and seemed in control. Then he went pants - I'd fear getting him in a game, because he seemed to make random, "look at me" decisions, and to never make it clear why. Yesterday though, he was very good.
But that's enough about the scenery, what about the Villa picture? - Gareth Barry continues to look a class above, whatever position he's in. Though he does have a habit of making one error a game at L-B that could cost us - a loose header on Saturday, a blocked pass yesterday. He's worth his weight in gold, mind.
I was impressed too by Craig Gardner, he loves a tackle, slotted in well at Right Back and well in midfield. He's beginning to learn from Gav, in terms of passing.
Steven Davis is another huge plus. He's had his rest, and is now back to his best.
Olly, of course, is Olly and Gary Cahill, though still learning, is quality.
But then we get to the problem areas. Everywhere else. Gabby has pace in abundance, but doesn't make the runs. Baros is mostly eager, but runs down blind alleys. Petrov has faded alarmingly - is he carrying an injury?
Ozzy is perhaps in a bit early, and needs to cotton on to passing the ball quickly and accurately. He's got some promise though.
Villa keep going, now. They don't give up, heads don't drop and the effort is exactly what it should be. With luck and with Mr Lerner's money, the quality of the Squad, and depth can be improved. There's a lot to do though.

I'm still a happy Villan, because there's hope things will be improved.

Oh and a word of thanks to the ticket office - we took a bigger allocation of tickets - apparently (so a Spurs steward said) 2900 Villa fans were there, rather than the 1500 minimum allocation. We didn't sell all the seats, but around 1400 more people got to go, than could otherwise have done.

 

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

2+2=5 (the lukewarm) - Sheffield United Away Report

 

There's a few things that don't quite add up, from tonights game in Sheffield, and I severely doubt that this report will make them any clearer.

Have you ever seen a fat bloke do something that just moments later he'd feel a bit daft about?

Well I have. But we'll come to that later. Best to do things in their proper order.
It's monday night, it's Sky TV monday night football, so that'll be a less than full ground then and a dull game. Er, no actually. You see, Sheffield Utd saw sense. They charged 15 quid a ticket (£10 concessions) for this one. Well done sirs. So the ground and the away end looked pretty full from Row R. Aren't clubs supposed to rip us off? Not this United (though Man U don't seem to have cottoned on. 35 quid for a BBC FA cup game next month! but anyway...).

A slightly later than planned arrival in Sheffield was soon made up for amongst friends in the Red Lion. And good beer always helps, I find. Just the pesky raffle ticket seller to dodge (see numerous threads) though he did buy me a pint :).

Following the chat and drinks, a short walk to the ground, and we emerged into a Bramall Lane ground that has been smartened up a fair bit since the last visit. Best of all they've filled the corners in at the away end, so the chill winter winds don't take your breath away, or at least they wouldn't if it was cold. But it wasn't. It was warm-ish. Wierd.

Villa started with Baros and Sutton up front, Davis in for Gareth Barry.
And they started really well. Straight up and at 'em, and within a couple of minutes we'd scored. One thing that hasn't changed is the view from the way end, so I'm not sure who actually got the goal. It might have been Petrov, or Davis, or, er, Sutton. No one seemed to know. I thought Petrov.
Sutton caused trouble, the ball came out to the edge of the box and a deflected shot (all that could be wrong, I had a crap view). We had further chances and really should have scored at least one more. Sheff U looked well dodgy at the back. Sutton missed the best one.
Late on Sheff U had a chance but the lad whacked it wide. It was noticeable that though he was doing OK, Bouma was having difficulty stopping crosses coming in from his side. At half time I thought perhaps Warnock would be telling his team to make more of that flank.
As it happened, Shefield United started off the second half like we had the first, and after maybe 5 or 6 minutes of action (down the far end again) a huge throw was knocked in by a blade and the ground roared it's approval by singing about maggots and chip butties. There's now't as queer as folk (or sommat, like).

Truth be told the long throws, and they were long, were causing all kinds of problems.
They're not a long ball side, United, but they are direct, and after another 5 or 10 minutes they scored again. Someone hooking a volley in after more head tennis.
It was at this point that the fat bloke a Mr Patrick Kenny decided that he'd do a kind of strutting, giving it large, type of walk in front of us lot. Fair play, he'd been getting some stick about his domestic arrangements and lack of one eybrow, but before anyone could mutter up another chorus of you fat, er, fellow, Steven Davis lobbed a cross in, Sutton knocked it down and Baros lashed in. Kenny turned away and argued with a defender. We grinned.

Stuart Taylor made a couple of excellent saves, the game revolved around free kicks (every one having to be taken from exactly the right place) and no one scored any more goals.

A fair result, a game that would have kept the TV viewers interested, but something was lacking from the excitement. I think they call it football. Villa were again obdurate in the face of the onslaught. Warms the cockles, after so many seasons of meek surrenders.

Some marks.
Taylor - a couple of fine saves, some good catches and a mistake or two. Dodgy kicking. Throw it out sometimes. 7
Olly - 6. Solid
Bouma 6 (Hughes 6)
Gary Cahill - 6. Incredibly harshly booked.
Ridge 6 (went to LB when Boma went off)
Gaby - 5 - didn't get in the game
Steven Davis- 5. He's not a left sided player. He's wasted out there, but did a job.
Gav - 6. Started really well, but as the game went on had less influence.
Stan - 7. Classy touches and turns. Good free kicks. Good game from him.
Sutton 7 - showed all his experience and class. (JPA on late not enough time to mark)
Baros - 7 - crikey. He looked interested and played well.

Thanks to Sheff U for the ticket prices. See you next year. I think they'll stay up, just about.

 

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cold Wind - Wigan Away Report

 

Another handily local game, for me, even if the kick off time was handy for no-one, but Sky TV.

As is traditional with these match reports, I can remember more about the build up to the game, than about the game itself. Today perhaps that's no bad thing as the game was, as you'll probably know by now, scoreless.

To make up for the lack of goals perhaps, the pre-match build up started for myself and Paul "the Pants" Johnson on Saturday night. We decided to go for a couple of pints, meeting up at 7 in the (most excellent) Taps, in Lytham. As is often the way with these things "a couple of pints" turned out to be slightly more than a couple, but why not? Good beer, good pub, good company - can't beat it. Having missed my tea, I made do with wolfing down a chicken kebab. During the course of the conversation Paul offered to drive to Wigan, thus saving me from the travails of North West Trains replacement bus service, or of driving myself.

And so to this morning. We made the short trip to Wigan, and "the Anvil" pub for a couple of (excellent again) pints of nourishing ale.

A quick walk up to the "JJB" under clear blue skies, a chat in the ground with Drat, Villain and Chris and to our seats.

Stan Petrov was out, as was Laursen, and Gav, so Whitts came in on the left, with GB in the centre and Ozzy keeping his place. On the right we had the threat of Gabby.

Almost from the kick off, Wigan playing towards us would have scored but for a great save from Tommy, from a header by McCulloch. For the next 30 minutes Wigan were by far the dominant side - our midfield was not getting hold of the ball, and the defence looked shakey. Gary Cahill was, perhaps unsurprisingly looking a bit tentative in his second game back.

Fortunately for Villa, Henri Camara had replaced his shooting boots with a pair of bananas and as a result he lashed several good chances well wide. Tommy also made further saves.

In the last 15 minutes of the half we finally got a grip and the game became more even. Whitts might have scored, and JPA had a volley deflected wide.

The second half was similar to the first in that Wigan had control of the game for the first half hour, and then it evened up. Subs for Villa helped us in that respect - Whitts was replaced by Agathe, who did well, GB moved to the left and Stevie D came on into the middle (replacing JPA) also to good effect. Gabby moved into the middle.

In this second half our best chance fell to Gareth Barry who was put through by a nice "leave" by Sutton, but he lashed over with his right foot, when he should perhaps have gone across the keeper, or found Angel in the middle.

We had a fair bit of pressure late on, in front of the Villa fans, but the sequence of corners came to now't, and shots were blocked.

We shivered through to the end and collected a point, rather than dropping two points.

A result for being obdurate, rather than for any great flair, but a result all the same.

Some marks

Tommy - excellent - 8

Olly - passing not great on occasion - 6
Freddie Bouma - did quite well - 6
Ridge - Solid - 7
Gary Cahill - seemed nervous - 5

Gabby - took a while to get into the game, but got better as it went on -7
Whitts - another looking a bit timid - 5 (Agathe 7)
Ozzy - committed - 6
Gareth Barry - some lovely passes, better when moved left - 7

JPA - 5 (Steve Davis 6)
Sutton - 7

The ref, Steve Bennet, had a decent game - "sensible" I'd call it.

To all the fans who went, top marks and a woolly hat for chrimbo. And thanks to Paul.

 

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Get Up, Stand Up - Everton Match Report

 

Just back from a proper late autumn's game at Goodison, I thought I'd jot down a few match related musings
You'll know by now, no doubt, that Villa won today. 1-0 courtesy of Chris (not a bluenose anymore) Sutton's neat glancing header from Ozzy's cross, but what you won't perhaps know, unless you were there was the nature of the performance, and what, to me at least it showed.

The day started with the short trek from Lytham to Liverpool on the local train, and a convivial meet up in the pub with fellow north west Villans Bicks, Jon and Jim, Jon's brother. Drinks were taken and chat ensued. We knew that Gary Cahill would be starting, thanks to another friend, Drat from VillaTalk, and felt that Olly would be at right back, but were unsure as to how the rest of the team would line up.

After a Taxi ride to the ground, just in time for kick off we saw that Olly had indeed moved to right back, Gary C and Ridge were in the centre with Freddie Bouma at left back, With Gareth Barry out injured, Stan Petrov was on the left, Ozzy and Gav in the centre and Gabby out right. The front two were JPA and Chris Sutton.

With the wind working up a fair old bluster, rain sweeping in and the Evertonians and Villans huddling in the old ground, I thought two things - 1. it would likely not be a classic match, and 2. Jon really, really, shouldn't have left his coat in the pub.

The first 20 minutes or so were fairly even and involved much "competing", with both sides seeking to get the upper hand, but not much actually happening. It was absorbing, though.

It was Villa, kicking into the wind (when it wasn't swirling) who wrestled control. Much of this was due to the midfield 3 of Gav, Ozzy and Petrov, but it was also clear that Olly, and Gaz and Ridge were on top of their opponents.

Some long range shooting from Stan Petrov and a few efforts from Everton didn't really trouble either keeper, but Villa were on top and were creating chances of making chances, without quite getting there.

Other factors at play were an inconsistent ref, and an unfortunate collision between 2 Everton players, which led to a 5 minute hold up while Tim Cahill was gingerly stretchered off. Hope he recovers soon, he's a good player. Beattie came on in his stead.

Shortly before half time Mellberg, I think, knocked a ball for Gabby to chase, against Lescott. He won the race (natch) laid it back to Isiah Osbourne, and Ozzy's cross was nicely glanced in by Sutton. No power, but the placement was perfect. 1-0.

We had a couple of other chances, but couldn't get the second we might have deserved.

Second half saw more Everton pressure than the first, but Tommy in goal had little to do, such was the excellence of the defence, ably assisted by all of the midfield and forwards.

The rain increased in ferocity, Evertonians roused themselves to egg their side on and the away section sang away for our boys.

Despite some further dubious refereeing decisions we held out pretty well, with one spell of play deep into stoppage time seeing 3 Villa players hurl themselves to block a shot.

The whistle went and we'd won.

In a way the match won't make great TV viewing, or and game of the season lists, but it was hugely, hugely, pleasing.

Why? - well on several levels. With players out injured we shuffled the small squad and the manager coaxed a real team performance out of every one of the players. Because Isiah Osbourne looked so much more at home than he had at Anfield. Because the tactics were spot on. Because we won at a place where we've not done too well in recent years. Because Everton had not lost at home in the league. Because we "bounced back" after a thumping at Chelsea in midweek, but because most of all, in the corresponding game last year we were dreadful, but this year the same squad, pretty much, raised their game and the fans and players were united in our aims.

We stood up for ourselves and came out on top.

Some marks.
Tommy - 7 - not busy, but a lesser mark would be harsh.

Olly- 7.5 - the best right back at the club
Gary Cahill - Splendid performance - 7.5
Ridge - Ditto - 7.5. It's heartening to see two young centre halves in total control of their job at an away game.
Freddie Bouma - decent 6.5

Gabby - 6. Didn't hold up the ball so well, but still a threat, and kept going, not letting his head drop. Good attitude
Gav - 7.5. Good stuff from Gav. Booked harshly, I thought.
Ozzy - 7.5. Now that's the stuff. A really good performance.
Stan Petrov 7.5 - Did extremely well out left

JPA - 6 - a real team performance, without threatening to score, but he put the shift in.
Chris Sutton - 7.5. Not that mobile, but those who saw the Blackburn game last week will know what he does. He did it again, and ran himself into the ground, as they all did.

Sub Steve Davis (Sutton) - only on for 5 minutes.
Sub Didier Agathe (JPA) - some good work - 6

Sometimes I feel people make too much of the cult of the manager, but Martin O'Neill deserves a huge dose of thanks for getting that level of performance from a tired and limited squad.

We got soaked on the walk back into town, but it was worth it. Thanks Villa.

 

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tonight The Monkey Dies

 

All teams lose games. It’s the norm rather than the exception, and so Villa returned to the realms of normality this afternoon. Deservedly so, too - Liverpool were the better side today, by a distance. The monkey of the last unbeaten record has gone.
Truth be told this was always going to be a tough, tough fixture - Liverpool having been easily beaten last week by Man Utd were always likely, I felt, to be wanting to make up to their supporters. Added to that their manager, unlike ours, has also been given a fair old bit of grief of late in order to fill up some newspaper columns and the the irrefutable fact that they have a squad packed with a lot more talent in depth than we do and all the signs were there.
It’s probably also worth pointing out that Villa, over the previous 2 or 3 games have started to look slightly less invincible than we were all beginning to believe in our new found moods of joy and optimism.
None of all that really matters when it comes to 22 blokes kicking a ball about on the pitch. All that really matters is that the skill, organisation, effort, commitment and endeavour of the two teams is put to the test and the best usually comes out on top unless the ref does something daft, as they sometimes can do.
Villa started still missing Gav in midfield, so young Ozzy kept his place from his debut at Leicester. Steven Davis was resting (rightly) on the bench. Freddie Bouma was at left back, with Gareth in midfield and Tommy returned in the goal.
For Liverpool, Peter Crouch and that very blond Dutch bloke played up front, and their side looked to have a real advantage in quality in midfield. This was to be proved throughout the game.
Kick off time arrived (fortunately not until after some very amenable scoops had been had in town, with JC, Bicks and Co. - the Cains IPA in Dr D’s was excellent), the Scousers waved their scarves about and sung along dutifully to YNWA, and the 3000 in the away corner shouted for our boys in, er, White and Light Blue.
Kicking towards us in the first half Liverpool looked to be first to every ball, and their midfield was running the game. Sissoko had a really good game for them, picking up all the lose balls, tackling, passing and running, and allowing Alonso to stroke the passes around. We didn’t really get near them for half an hour, but kept the score to nil nil due to the defense clearing away most of the danger. But we created absolutely nothing. Angel and Baros got no service, just some clearances to chase after. The ball kept coming back for more pressure.
After 30 minutes the dam broke. That blond Dutch feller scored from a good finish after a spot of pinball. The 5 minutes later or so the ref gave a soft fee-kick to liverpool and harshly booked Mellberg into the bargain. With too much time and space allowed for their midfield, a reverse pass out wide, a cross and Crouch with a slight mis-hit maybe scored on the half turn. JC said Olly missed the ball and he was probably right. It got worse though just before half time when Gerrard passed nicely for Garcia to score from about 8 yards.
45 minutes and we’d had one shot (off-target) and got a chasing. Ominous. We just weren’t in it at all.
The second half saw some changes for Villa - both Baros and Angel were taken off, and shortly afterwards Ozzy was replaced by Steven Davis. The Two ex-celtic players, Sutton and Agathe replaced the two invisible forwards.
Sutton did pretty well, giving their defenders more trouble than either JPA or Milan had done. He linked up well with Gabby, now playing through the middle and one two put Gabby through on goal. Only one outcome was possible, you just knew he’d score, but it was a good finish and we had got back at least touch of pride. Even so Liverpool continued to make chances, particularly down our right, where Aaron Hughes didn’t have the best of games.
Sutton brought a cracking save out of Reina, leaping to get to a header from a free kick that was surely going to go into the corner of the net.
We kept up the effort and the heads never once dropped, which was pleasing, but we were still not really “in” the game seriously, in terms of looking like getting level for more than a few minutes of pressure.
It’s often been like this at Anfield (and other away games) in recent years, but what was different was the fans - we recognise that before the season started and before the changes at the top we were looking at a relegation struggle, with our small squad and consequent lack of quality once a few players drop out. So at 3-1 down we were singing the manager’s name, accepting, I believe, that things are on the up, but there’s only so much that can be done without the opportunity to bring in more quality. It’ll take time. 
The game ended, a walk back to the station, a chat and a beer with a couple of familiar, friendly faces, a moan about the trains - they’re always a problem in the north west - engineering works never cease, it seems and then a mad dash as I realised I’d lingered slightly too long in the bar, but I (just) caught my train hoping that Villa can get back on track to our ultimate destination, too.
Some marks, to make up for the pitiful description of the match action
Tommy - 7. Blameless.
Aaron Hughes 3 - not at his best just now, too much seems to “happen” down his side.
Freddie Bouma - 5. OK on his first full game back
Olly - 5
Ridge 5
Gabby - 7 MoTM for Villa. As Drummond pointed out, he’s looking more like a footballer all the time, not just a sprinter.
Stan Petrov - 5
Ozzy - 3 - he was up against Sissoko who was the overall, excellent, MoTM and will have learnt a lot, I’d guess. He could be a good ‘un, but not quite yet at this level. (Steven Davis 6)
Gareth Barry - 5
JPA - 4 (Chris Sutton 6.5)
Milan Baros - 2 (Didier Agathe 6). Is it lack of matches and fitness, or is it disinterest? Hard to tell. 
Oh and the ref was a bit crap, but didn’t affect the result.

 

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fables of the Reconstruction

 

There's a (allegedly Chinese) curse that says "may you live in interesting times". It seems to me that the Chinese must be alright, if their insults lead to what we've seen at Villa park these past few months.

It's worth casting the mind back to the summer just to realise how interesting times have been since then.

There we were in June and July, reading the thoughts of the Villa faithful. These thoughts ran (not quite exactly) along the lines of "I can’t take any more of this dull ambitionless Ellis and O'Leary inspired mediocrity, I'm off to saw my own legs off for a bit of light relief" - and that was just the players!

A quick look at the VillaTalk archives (link on the right) shows just how angry, depressed, frustrated and disillusioned we all were, almost without exception. The main Villa part of the site had almost turned into an off-shoot of the previously no more than pleasant and diverting "Off-Topic" forum, which had swollen to bursting point with people taking refuge from the storm of depressing mediocrity that had infested Villa park and taken deep root.

So things weren't good. They really weren't.

Since then we've had, so far, a steady and rapid journey back upwards. I've almost got the bends from the speed of the rise. It's been so dizzying that I can hardly believe that what went before ever really happened (even if it largely "not happening" lasted for 24 years).

To date the rise has almost entirely been an emotional one rather than a tangible one. Spirits have soared; the same small squad of players have looked more determined, more motivated, more organised and more competent than they ever did over a 10 game spell last season, or the season before.

Martin O'Neill has been universally welcomed by the supporters, players and other people at the club. The media have started talking more positively about the Villa and gates which were threatening to be pitiful, following lamentable season ticket sales pre- the change have more than recovered.

Off the pitch the speed with which Mr Lerner and his team have acted to address problems has been breathtaking at times:- 

Long overdue Training ground development lying stalled because the "ring-fenced" money set aside by Ellis was a fantasy? - Holy RSJs! The builders are only back in on the job the next day.

Derelict Holte Hotel decaying sadly behind the ground and shaming the club? - brew-up-lads-tastic! The workmen are in and refurbishment started, and with a sensible plan for what to use the place for. 

But the biggest change is the rediscovery of the soul of the club. It's the refreshing attitude of the new board and new manager.
We used to have a Chairman who said a lot and did little, now we have a Chairman who says little but does a lot.
We used to have a manager who made excuses and said the players were honest, but not good enough, now we've got a manager who has the players believing they can beat anyone, and if they don't beat 'em, they’re sure as heck not going to lose to 'em.
We had a Chairman who treated supporters with contempt and who seemed to see us as a wretched bunch whose sole purpose was to put funds into his coffers and tell him how munificent he was.
Now we have the General and Randy listening and talking and being interested in us as people, as part of the club, and now it's the Owner, like the fans, investing in the club.

I don't know what's going to happen next - will the ground be developed, will players be signed steadily, or in a big rush next summer, or not at all. In a strange way I don't care because I trust the people in charge to get it right, on and off the pitch. It's a long time since I've trusted the club, or since the club trusted us.

Like a Chinese meal, the "interesting times" curse leaves me wanting more - Bring it on.

And as a post script, I've found out today that Mr Lerner is going to pay for all coaches for fans to travel down to Chelsea for the League Cup match there in a couple of weeks. We have 6000 tickets for the match, which could mean a sizeable sum being spent. Wow.
Additionally General krulak, in charge of the day to day running of the Club is talking and listening to supporters, oth at matches and even on that new fangled internet thingy.
Quite astonishing, and quite, quite, excellent.

 

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What's the colour of money?

 

Not writen for a bit, so now seems as good a time as any.

I got my cheque today from Mr Lerner, the new owner of the club.

I couldn't send my acceptance off fast enough in order to help in a tiny way, facilitate his taking over of Villa from Ellis and the previous board.

When he finally confirmed that he was in it was to great joy and relief from almost all the villans I know.

Ellis was a mix of, at best, well intentioned but incapable, and at worst selfish and self obsessed, and that'sbeing kind, I feel.

Of course, just now we're in the honeymoon period with the new american owner and his team. But so far all the signs are hugely encouraging. Without doing anything, the takeover has had a massive effect in boosting the whole mood of the place. For many of us it feels like we've got or club back, and that's enough.

But then there's the "action" already - the stalled training ground improvements are restarted already, plans are afoot for the renovation and restoration of the Old Holte Hotel (I used to go in there when it was a pub).

The fantastic new manager, attracted to Villa on the back of regime change and happier personal circumstances seems to be working magnificently with the players, and the results and performances have been hugely encouraging.

Suddenly, or it seems like suddenly, I've just got my love back for the club. And it's great.

So a belated thank you, and best wishes to Randy Lerner.

I've a feeling that a fair bit, if not all of the proceeds from the shares I thought I'd never sell will be finding it's way back into the account of Aston Villa FC (no Plc anymore :) )one way or another.

The colour of money? - Claret and Blue.

 

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Changes - a few thoughts after Arsenal

 

I went down to Arsenal yesterday and due to a trio of reasons I can't do a match report as such
1. I enjoyed quite a few pre-match scoops in the Twelve pins with some friends and acquaintances, and my memory of the detail is therefore somewhat hazy.
2. My seat was in row 4 - very near the front, so perspective of the game from that angle can be very misleading
3. Just about everyone but me will have seen it on the telly, I'd guess, by now, anyway and would know far better what actually happened!

So instead, I thought I'd just try and jot down a few thoughts, observations and impressions in a random order.

I like Arsenal, they're a club that generally act with a bit of class, behave in the way that you feel a famous old English club should. They're not penny pinchers. This was recently shown in the last game at Highbury when each supporter there found a T-shirt commemorating the game on their seat. Wigan the visitors were included too, with their shirts being blue, rather than red or white like the home fan's.
Their team under Wenger has been the one, that when it plays to its best has taken the entertainment in football to a completely new level. At times they are simply majestic.
So having expressed my admiration for them as a club who (largely) do things the right way, what did I make of the new ground?
Stunning, that's what. Just round the corner from Highbury, this huge structure rears out from the streets, all shiny metal and glass, sweeping curves and walkways.
Inside the attention to detail and "class" is again obvious. The seats are all padded, and noticeably larger than those in every other ground I've been to. The leg room is ample. The stewards were there to help, rather than to spoil anyone's enjoyment.
The obvious comparison is Man City's ground - it has the same type of light and airy feel, but the Emirates Stadium is bigger.
One thing that's lost is any kind of bear-pit atmosphere - but Highbury never had that anyway, in my experiences. There was plenty of noise when Arsenal scored though.
Top marks then for the stadium. The only concern would be the prices. One "Gooner" said that a lot of the games would be more expensive 46 quid instead of the 32 we (and he) paid yesterday.

But you didn't want to read all about the Arse, did you? What of Villa?

Well, er, not much different to be honest. Same players as last year, but all looking keen and eager at the start of the new season. Gareth Barry was (in my view rightly) the Captain, with King Olof left to marshall the defence with Ridge. This they did exceedingly well both were excellent. JLloyd had a busy old time defending against the rampaging runs of the Arsenal right back, but Aaron Hughes was a lot less busy - he saw off Lungberg pretty easily, and without Ashley Cole he didn't have the same amount of attacking to defend against. Henry didn't terrorise like he can do.

Sorenson played very well, and there were no communication cock-ups at the back whatsoever.

In midfield Gav and Steve Davis in the middle harried and chased, Gareth Barry joined them in breaking up play and closing down very effectively. Gabby on the right had his pace which we looked to use, but in truth he didn't get much chance to attack, and when he did he was easily dealt with by Arsenal.
Luke playing behind and to the left of JPA didn't much get in the game, and nor did JPA - basically defending from the front was their role as the game developed. They did it diligently, but were never given the service or able to threaten Arsenal much at all.

Of course we scored from a corner - a great ball in from Davis onto Olly's noggin' as their keeper and 2 defenders failed to get there.
But this brought increasing waves of Arsenal pressure, the post was rattled, saves made, and when Theo Walcott came on and gave Arsenal width on their left, to match that on their right side, a goal was inevitable. Gilberto whacked in from the angle.

But we hung on.

I was as interested to watch Martin O'Neill on the sidelines as any pattern of play, and he was there, waving and exhorting, and prowling. At the end, he came on to the pitch told all the Villa players to turn round and go and thank the fans. Matin Laursen threw his shirt to the crowd, and L'il Lee clambered over the barriers to do the same. Both had come on late on - Lee for Steven Davis after maybe 80 mins and Laursen with only a couple left.

So the effort commitment and organisation was there, and reward was gained. But equally we were no threat at all, bar a corner.

Perhaps the biggest change was in the Villans in the stands. Most if not all of us thought we'd lose, but that notwithstanding, the mood for the club and for the season was optimistic. It was epitomised by one fan with an old "Ellis Out" placard (one of Paul Barnes' to be exact, the A3 size) with "At Last" added in thick black marker.

Amen to that my friend, Amen to that.

 

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Suddenly everything has changed

 

Now he's going I can hardly contain my excitement - Sad! Not me. I'm deliriously, joyously optimistically happy. I don't mind if we play pants all season, I don't mind if we end up in in division 3 or 2 or whatever they're now called, we've almost tangibly got our hope back, or at least I have. 

It's what he never ever realised, really, or had the wit to understand. Football is about the hopes and dreams of millions, not Ellis's hopes and dreams of millions of pounds. 

We're free of the shackles - it might go horribly wrong, it might go fantastically right, but we're not shackled any more. 

The point of sport is that you don't know what's gonna happen, and for all that people say"we're the Villa, anything could ruddy happen" we know that's not been true for a good while. 

Now were going to get that back. 

We knew that whoever the manager was, we'd be bored half the time, frustrated another quarter of the time and occasionally be happy-resentful that we finished 7th and 30 points behind the Sky teams. 

The roller coaster was just a flat ride at the ground level. 

"We can celebrate all we like" - too chuffin right. 

Who's he beaten? - No one. And that's the problem. What have we won, what baubles have we got in his donkeys years? not much to show. 

He's going to have a lot of money. He's done alright for himself, but that's how he is and what he is. 

A man who made a few quid by running a cut price enterprise which made it's money by selling a cheap product and cutting costs in the late 60s and early 70s was still working the same way 40 years later. 

Good riddance to bad rubbish. 

Turn the page, like in the fanzines of old and look forward to whatever comes next.

 

Rapid Ear Movement

 

The Lifting

I am mostly listening to "Cuyahoga" by R.E.M.

I want more of Life's Rich Pageant, please. The time of Reckoning is near, and there will soon be no more of Ellis's Fables of the Reconstruction

It started as just a Murmur, some people said it would be the end of the World as we know it, but I feel fine. The seemingly endlessly recurring Bad Day is drawing to a close.

Underneath the Bunker an old man, world leader pretend, still proclaims "I am Superman", but he's heading towards the Great Beyond as we reach the Endgame and he clutches the Final Straw. He'll be consoled by Strange Currencies from Little AmericaHalf a world away, as we all shout "Leave" and cheer his Departure, hoping in the Aftermath to make it all OK.

There's been so much Bang and Blame, plenty of suspicion and not much pretty persuasion.

The apologist is diminishedDisappear, to Ignorelandyou don't belong, but why not SmileSummer turns to high.

We're all laughing and we talk about the passion rekindled, you'll soon be the outsiders. We'd never been so Low, but now we're in Near wild heaven.  Hope is back and we walk unafraid

And so ends and begins the perfect circle.

 

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Snipers at the gates of Doom

 

Well I never!

The fans of Aston Villa have been saying this for years, but now the players are joining in. On Friday, the squad released the following statement:- 

"We feel it should be a big club but if the chairman has got ambition, he needs to start showing it. It has to come from the top. 
"So many other clubs are doing so much to show their ambition apart from us. As players we're all ambitious and we want to improve on last season. The chairman should be behind the club and not working against what we're trying to achieve. There have been a series of cutbacks and we feel we have to mention this because they are now starting to affect us.
"At the end of last season, the chairman refused to pay #300 for the pitches to be watered. The training ground development, which we were all looking forward to working in, has stopped. 
"Now we have lost a masseur because the club refuse to pay for one and are clubbing together to pay for our own. 
"We have also heard that the physio, who was on his way to see Martin Laursen, could not claim back for a cup of coffee at the airport. 
"We've had no explanation for the cutbacks and we feel if the manager (David O'Leary) can't get one, then we have no chance. 
"Maybe the chairman thought he would have left by now because of the takeover. Supporters are concerned with what happens on the pitch and rightly so. 
"But we feel with all the cutbacks, it is difficult to attain the targets we all share.
"In the second half of last season, there was no investment in the team, a 
loan player - Eirik Bakke - was sent back to Leeds, and now we're unable to sign James Milner from Newcastle. 
"There are no positives coming out of the club. We need to see a plan where the club is going and all the players feel the same. Every penny is being watched."


All I can add is my thanks to them (and what to you so long?)

Interesting times

Let's hope that the end of the pompous, self serving time of Ellis at Villa is over and the club can get its soul and its life back.

 

Saturday, April 29, 2006

how does it make you feel? - Liverpool Away report

 

A weary, weary, end of season report from Anfield

I have barely got the mental energy left to write this, it’s been that kind of a season.

But seeing as the sun shone, and the Theme Park is my favourite away ground, I’ve just about crawled over the finishing line - much like the Villa.

First the good news. Good beer £1.25 in the pub near the ground. Seemed rude not too.

And now the bad news, or indifferent news. The match.

The pre-match scenario was pretty straightforward, really. We needed 1 point from our last 2 games to definitely stay up, but realistically, we were probably pretty secure already. So the interest was in whether small heath alliance or “Come on Pompey, Yes my babbies , come on, send the sh*t down F.C.” would be staying up. Obviously, I was strictly neutral in this matter.

Oh yes, our game, sorry. We kicked off and let a goal in. 3 minutes and 19 seconds said the Stevie Coppell sound-a-like on the PA.

Whatever the precise timing, the gap in which Morientes found himself was wider than a fat cockney wide boy on a wide awake course - think Danube Estuary. Even with all the pace of an oil tanker, there was no way a decent forward could do anything other than gently pack up his picnic table, wipe the last crumbs from his lips, empty his glass, shake his napkin and wave to a couple of friends nearby in the stands, before putting the ball confidently past Sorenson. This is what Morientes did (more or less - it was a good finish, but would perhaps have been made harder by the attendance of some defenders).

Not the best of starts.

The half proceeded, with Liverpool being easily good enough to have the majority of the play, kicking towards us. When we did get the ball we didn’t keep hold of it, and if we did, then Baros wasn’t really that interested. Not that we really got it to him much.

Half time, and the tannoy Coppell said all the other games were goal-less.

The second half started much better for Villa. We had put JPA on for the lacklustre Baros and the difference was marked. Touch movement, holding the ball up, picking out team mates. Marvellous. I remember we used to that sort of thing before, long ago. Can't remember much about, just vague images of happy fans. Strange, anyway.

And so we scored. After a period of pressure, Milner rolled the ball across from the wing, and Barry had a tap in at the far post. Made up perhaps for a headed miss in the first half, again from a Milner cross. JPA had made a serious difference.

Moments later, cock-up time in the Liverpool defence, not for the first time, and Gabby Agbonlahor, clean through, rushed his shot and hit it just wide.

Crikey. Liverpool had dozed off so much we were looking in with a shout.

Corner to Liverpool, Gerrard flicked it in at the near post. A few minutes later, Gerrard scored an absolute screamer, welting the ball home from the right hand corner of the box (only a bit further out).

Game over, like so many others this season. 

Villa created a few more chances, as did the reds, but no one really cared. Attention was on scores from elsewhere. Apparently Pompey were losing, then drawing, then did they score a pen? whatever, the away end stopped chanting for O’Leary to go, and concentrated more on “stay up Pompey, Pomey stay up”

The game finished, the fans all waited - Liverpool for a deserved end of season lap of honour, Villa to hear the scores from “elsewhere”

small heath succumbed. We celebrated.

Redscouse will be celebrating a cup final appearance, and more Euro Telly Cup adventures, we celebrate being not quite as dire as the dogsh*t. Small consolations, I suppose, and there’s nothing else to celebrate.

Good luck to Liverpool, see you next season.

Some marks - nah, why should I?

Ellis get Out Now. O’Leary - close the door after you.

Thank God that’s over.

 

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Post

 

We’ve all been trudging around, gloomily for so long now, I thought I’d try and lift my head up, get my chin off my chest and look into the future.

Not the future, next season, or even the future next season but one, but say 5 years time.

We’ve derided the club, rightly, for a lack of vision and lack of planning, for blatant self interest and short sighted-ness, so maybe by looking at what and where we want to be, as a club, something can formulate in our minds that will allow us to look at the present from a new angle?

So what do we want from Aston Villa?

Essentially, what we want is to go along to the games with a sense of excited anticipation. A belief that we will, on any given day, be witness to, well, something worth witnessing.

There’s a lot more of course, pre-match rituals, chats in the pub, a kick about in the park and all the rest, but that all revolves around a shared experience, a sense of a community gathering to both witness and participate in 90 minutes of sporting tension, exitement and excellence.

It’s a simple joy, and seems relatively easy at face value to arrange. Just a FA computer to pick the fixtures, a competition, or comeptitions to compete in, stadia and players and manager. That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

It’s clearly not that easy though.

We’ll be happy when we win, ecstatic when we win well and disappointed by defeats.

We’ll be proud when we “fight”, in awe when something special happens - a great goal, or a piece of superb skill or defending or a terrific goalkeeping display that gets us something from nothing.

I would guess that these thoughts are common to every other football club and fan in the land.

Essentially, then, all clubs have the same criteria. We’re all after the same thing.

As a Villa fan for 30 odd years I have a kind of ingrained “Villa” mindset. I’d like Villa to be up amongst the top tier of the country’s clubs. I’d like us to be challenging for trophies and European competitions. Some clubs will be wanting pretty much guaranteed trophies every season, others will settle for different goals.
Again, as a Villan, trophies every season would be great, but it’s not a demand, or a percieved “right”.

I do have some historical evidence to suggest that my wishes are fulfillable and realistic, and that failure to meet them should not be excused over the long term. We have proven we can do it, after all.

In 5 years time Ellis will have gone, so too will David O’Leary. So this article is not about where are we now, and “isn’t it terrible?”

Not so many years ago, the record crowd for a Premiership game, in this all seater(ish) age, was 46,000 at Villa park for a game against Liverpool.
Now Man Utd sell out 71,000 and will sell out 75,000 every game next season, Newcastle get more than 50,000 every week, as will Arsenal next season and others too.

Times have changed, and times have become more money oriented.

We’ve just recently signed a new sponsorship deal with Red32 for maybe a few hundred grand a season. Man Utd have just signed a deal for perhaps 30 or 40 times that amount with AEG is it?

We get shown on Sky, Utd get shown across Europe in midweek Eurotelly games. And they’re after, with their G14 mates, getting money off FIFA for the World Cup.

The playing field in money terms isn’t even. There’s a 3:1 incline already. We’re kicking up the slope and against the prevailing wiind.

When faced with such an ascent, it’s necessary to do two things. Take one step at a time, and to always bear in mind the peak we want to reach.

We’ve currently forgotten there is a peak and have been stood around catching a cold while others clamber on up.

So what to do?

Well first, in order to draw up a five year (and beyond) plan, we need to have an aim.

Currently it seems to be “sell my shares for 50% more than their worth” which as it goes is commendably optimistic, but rather lacking in a football sense (or indeed any sense at all)

But that’s not fair - what about the rest of the board? what are their aims? “not to get sacked” or “to collect my pension” or “”where’s the rest of ‘em gone?” Ah. I see your point.

So before we can get a plan we need to get a board that is capable of thinking beyond their own self interest.

Things to do number 1. Get a competent and professional board.

All this money business -" we’re going to have to join in, aren’t we?” they might ask.

No more 9 million pound losses just from “running costs”.

So that means that the punters are going to have to become “consumer units” or some such phrase.

Consumers of a product, basically.

Well in that case we need a product that lots of them will want to buy. It’s no good just offeriing standard stodge, a unique selling point is needed. We can’t rely on “Lager beer’s premier league football” as that’s not unique. There will be other clubs offering exactly that.
You can use (ancient) history/tradition as a small selling point, but museums don’t do sell outs.
Better is “The absolute best football team in the area” . It’s a start. But best in the area needs to graduate to best in the (larger) area.

So how do you get that?

Get the best footballers, manager and coaches I guess.

Is Dario Grady better than Morinho ? depends what the question refers to. producing players - Grady, producing the best team - Morinho.

We can’t afford a Morinho, so we need to identify people with skills to build up and develop players, facilities, commercial deals, stadium facilities and all the other apsects of the club.

Things to do number 2. Identify and recruit “developers” at the management layer. Keep the good ones we have, already.

Passion is a huge thing in football - both for the fans, sorry, consumer units, and for the players/team.

Things to do number 3. Ensure that everyone at the club shares a common passion and aim for the “plan” or the club, or the team, however you want to phrase it.

It’s only right that the people involved in this “project” should be rewarded for good work, and rewarded well. I’ve already said how it’s so money oriented, whether we like it or not.

Things to do number 4. Make reward performance based. Do your job well and get well rewarded. Do your job badly, and you don’t.

One of the strengths of football in England is the part clubs can and do play in the community. It needs to be recognised that there’s a two way relationship, beyond a commercial one, between a club and it’s environment and local population. A money making behemoth in the midst of a working area could easily be resented.

Play a part in making the lives of people in the local area, even if they are not “customers”, especially if they are not customers, better.

Things to do number 5. Don’t ever forget where you are, and who you work amongst. Respect and help your neighbours. They are a part of your success or failure. Listen, communicate, be genuine.

These things, are, I think just the very basic starting points we need to address. I’m sure I’ve missed stuff off, and got some wrong.

But none of it seems that impossible, and none of it that easy.

The last thing I’d suggest is that whatever the club decides to do, they need to communicate it to their consumers.

AVFC Plc is a business. It’s not a pub side. It needs to be run like a proper business, or else it will become just a glorified pub side.

Or is it too late?

 

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Time To Support The Club: It’s Really That Simple - A reply

 

JC Wrote

“One hundred and eighteen years ago yesterday, William McGregor, said this of Aston Villa:

For brilliance and, at the same time, for consistency of achievement, for activity in philanthropic enterprise, for astuteness of management and for general alertness, the superiors of Aston Villa cannot be found”

All around me all I see are people slagging off everything. The players, the management staff, the ground, the chairman, the people serving the pies....”
---------
I read the article and felt uneasy. I agree, usually, with a lot of what JC says, but somehow the article left me feeling uneasy.

It’s taken a while for the “why” to sink in.

I recognise the mood of discontent John describes - the slagging off of everything, basically. The manager and players have noticed it too, and commented on it. So clearly John is on to something. But still, an itch needed scratching.

What, though?

There’s a lazy stereotype that Villa fans are moaners, but frankly that’s rubbish. We’re no different to any other club’s fans. Don’t believe me? Listen to a phone in on Radio 5 Live or local radio wherever you live. Chelsea fans will soon be slagging off Morinho, Abramovic and their players. Arsenal fans, and Man U and Liverpool up there doing well will be phoning up next time they lose, or the tea is cold.

Anyway, if we’re no different, then “why the griping”? must surely be the question. If you understand why people are moaning, then perhaps you can address the cause, or at least try to. (Teenage testosterone and frustrations are, of course, incurable).

What about the starting point of John’s article - the William McGregor quote “For brilliance and, at the same time, for consistency of achievement, for activity in philanthropic enterprise, for astuteness of management and for general alertness, the superiors of Aston Villa cannot be found”

Well it’s no longer valid, is it. The superiors of Aston Villa are many. So the fans aren’t moaning despite being the best. Perhaps they’re moaning,then, partly at least because we’re so far from being the best. Maybe it’s “unreasonable” to expect the best, but is what we’re actually getting - second rate fare - not something that should be the subject of complaint and dissatisfaction?

If we weren’t complaining, then it would mean we didn’t care. Far worse, but not so far off, for some.

From the tens of thousands of Villa fans we get scores of different “views” on what should be done. Most of us (me certainly) are not experts, but we care, so we talk and write and argue about what should be done. “Sack the board” /”sack the manager”/ sell the midfielders/sell the defenders and so on. We used to get “buy a forward”, but fortunately the transfer window put an end to that.

So we’re not as individuals likely to agree with a lot of the suggestions.

During a game, a chant will catch on, partly through agreement, partly through simplicity of expression, partly through just having been quiet for 3 minutes. “We want O’Leary Out”

Despite what people say, I believe that fans want to go to matches, see a good game, see their team win and to participate in a good positive atmosphere. We surely don’t go in the hope of having a chance to moan at the pies/manager/substitute full back. We’d rather win, enjoy the “food” and see the left back score the goal of the season from 30 yards.

I went to Everton, and the chanting against O’Leary didn’t surprise me one bit. He’s been so negative himself that it was only a matter of time....

I didn’t join in, but that doesn’t mean a thing.

I can’t remember the last time I heard Villa fans chanting for the manager to go, if ever. And I’ve been going a long time.

I think where I’m going with this is that Johns article is right to identify a mood of discontent, and the effect it has on the experience - a viscious circle, basically. But I really believe that the fans, as varied as we are in our views are only reflecting, not leading, the situation. My perception is that we are a pretty tolerant bunch normally, perhaps too tolerant, and that if the whining has got so loud as to be a further negative factor on what is supposed to be entertainment, of sorts, then it’s the product and the people responsible for the product that need to be doing the navel gazing.

If the football gets better, if the club gets stronger, if it even shows it wants to try to get stronger, the fans will be there, and they’ll happily stop moaning about cold pies and all the rest.

Oh, and in this phase 3 of the “whole new ball game” the club really needs to take note.

 

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Grounds for divorce - Everton Match Report

 

The Third Lancastrian away game in a week. Once upon a time it would have been cause for celebration, but not any more.

Welcome to another world weary away report, this time from Goodison.

I guess you'll know the result, and that Everton deserved their win.
They've certainly improved a lot from the shambles of a side we saw them bring to VP over Christmas. Like the bulbs popping through the grass on Stanley park, they looked full of life and full of the joys of spring.

James Beattie - the chap we wanted, the one who had all but signed for us 'till Ellis "helped" had a good game for them. So to did Tim Cahill. And while their defence looked almost as shakey as ours, their central midfield consisting of Cahill and one of the Arthur Nevilles (they're called Arthur for different reasons - one because of his Arthur Scargill militant tendencies and one because he looks like he eats his Kattomeat with his paw, rather than just from the bowl like other cats... anyway, the Kattomeat Arthur Neville is the one I'm on about) had more help out wide until late on, than did ours and their whole team looked better drilled and better organised.

The early TV kick off and Saturday traffic meant no pre-match ale for me, just a chat downstairs in the ground. The mood wasn't overly enthusiastic or confident.

For the first 12 minutes we were doing OK - no disasters happened, but obviously this couldn't last, and it didn't. Everton scored a good goal - one of their all very similar Osmans, or McFaddens or whoever driving the ball in to the bottom corner after some shennanigans and difficulty clearing the ball. He did have as much time as he wanted, mind.

As the half full away end started to belatedly fill up, they scored again, after maybe 20 minutes. This one was cock-up contender of the day number 1 - I bring you a throw in, a slightly hesitant goalie allowing himself to be beaten to the ball both in timing and in bravery and Cahill had scored. Sorenson to blame mainly, but he wasn't helped by the defenders allowing Everton to get their way too easily.

Villa came right back into the game, and a succession of chances were cleared of the line down the far end. Davis, then Gabby from the corner, then Davis again from the clearing header. Not our day (again).

Thankfully for Everton we soon handed them another contender for stupid goal give-aways. A long ball down the line, and their wide player surged past JLloyd (on for Aaron Hughes, who had looked half asleep - perhaps he has this virus?) ridiculously easily - JLloyd looked like he was treading porridge, and a ball across the box. It was too far ahead of their forward, and whoever it was in the centre for Villa - maybe Barry (though where Mellberg or Ridge were was hard to tell, but it was nowhere close) decided to let it run, rather than risk a skewed clearance. He clearly didn't know there was another Everton player behind him, and Tom didn't tell him, and Bouma was quite not up with his covering play and so they scored. No communication, players AWOL and/or making elementary mistakes. The O'Leary out chants were in full flow, as were jokes following a programme availability announcement. What can you do but laugh?

Half time. Big telly adverts for Nissans and Computer games drowned out the discussion amongst the Villans in the Bullens road, but in truth most of what would have been said involved heavy usage of swearing and an industrial application of sighing. Only 45 minutes then we can all go home.

These second 45 minutes saw a better performance from Villa. (In truth they couldn't have been worse). Gabby on his debut, and Luke to a lesser extent were troubling the ponderous, but experienced Everton markers with their pace and movement, if not their strength or aerial ability.
The introduction of Lee Hendrie also brought much needed life and invention to our midfield

We scored, glory be. Gabby from the angle on the far side of the pitch, after some interplay around the edge of their box - Hendrie, Davis, Barry etc.

And Everton began to get anxious. But they needn't have done so really. We weren't good enough to cause anxiety to anyone, not with a defence that is as porous as ours.

They duly scored their 4th just before the end. A good finish from MotM Cahill. There had been a few near things at both ends prior to that, but it was all a bit frenzied.

To sum up, Villa terrible, Everton quite good in the first half. A lot of the Villa fans were chanting for O'Leary to go. I didn't join in, though I'm not his greatest fan. Everton's fans didn't do much but cheer when they scored - that's the thing with these early kick offs. No beer.

Some marks
TS 4

AH (not on long enough to mark, subbed by JLloyd - 5
Wilf - 4
Olly 4
Ridge 6

Craig Gardener - 4, wrongly booked for a hard but fair tackle, and he's still very early in his career
Steven Davis - 6
Gav - 4
Barry - 5
Lee Hendrie (on for CG) 7. If he'd been on for the whole game, he'd have been our MoTM

Luke 5
Gabby 5+1 for the goal

When I was a lad, if Villa let in a goal I'd be devastated, and a loss would hurt all week. Then the losses only hurt for a day, then an hour. Now, 3-0 down in 40 minutes, and playing like drains, it doesn't affect me at all.

And those are the ground for divorce. Some want Ellis and Villa separated asap, some want O'Leary to be squabbling over who gets to keep the cat and the CDs.

Me, I don't care. I'm already emotionally divorced from them. They don't make me happy any more.

 

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Uncomfortably Numb - Blackburn Away Report

 

My local game, and thanks to Sky telly a tea time kick off. Here's a world weary away end view of proceedings.

We trekked down the road to Blackburn aware that they have a pretty sound home record, but also aware that Villa have been more obstinate on our travels than the often supine home performances.

But before the game, a few scoops in the Fernhurst. People who haven't been to Blackburn may not be aware, but this fairly large pub is located just near the away end at Ewood, and is pretty much a dedicated "away" pub. Well they must have raked in a hell of a lot of cash today, because the place was rammed. Villans had descended upon it from places as far afield as Sweden and, er, Chorley.

The first hint of what was to come arrived with the news that the Bitter had run out, and I was "forced" to drink lager. Swedes regaled the drinking masses with traditional songs (traditional and word perfect Holte end songs, that is). My mate's little lad, a 6 year Blackburn fan, seemed a tad confused by the atmosphere. No doubt he'll have been confused by what was to follow, too.

The game started (after the compulsory Balti pie) with Villa looking spritely. Within a minute Barry had found himself past Friedel, but from a wide angle on the right, couldn't roll the ball into the empty net.
Villa were for 20 minutes the better and more attacking side. We created a number of chances, but didn't score, and Friedel did what he had to do - tipping over a Mellberg header, for instance.
Blackburn had a couple of long range shots. That was it.

The second part of the first half the game just died. The life left Villa, and Blackburn got no better. Perhaps if Milner, injured in the warm up had been on the right, instead of Luke, the Villa attacks might have had a second dimension. Who knows? But Luke looked lost and wasted out there. 

A half time thaw out, and chat and then the game kicked off again.

Or at least Blackburn did, but Villa were caught cold - a corner, their first, was floated in, some fumbling went on at the far end, and a Rover scored. Tommy made out it was all terribly unfair, but I saw now't wrong from 100 yards away (except dithering).

Damn. All those missed chances. Typical.

Villa wrestled back control of the game, and a superb, and I mean superb, instant pass from Barry put Baros clean through. Guess what, he dithered a tad, waited for Friedel to go down early, which he didn't, and then struck his shot at the keeper's body. Damn. Again.

Within a minute or so he had a chance to redeem himself. He was presented with an unchallenged header from a Davis cross. And missed. Damn. Again, again.

It was fairly clear that Phillips was unimpressive, Luke lost out wide - perhaps a move for Lukey into the middle and bring on a sub on the right? No, decided DO'L.
Mark Hughes though was making much better use of his squad. Emerton came on and soon after scored from what looked like yet another goalkeeping ***** up. Tommy was sprawling about on the floor, but without the ball. Did he get it and lose it, or just never get it? I couldn't see. Anyway, Emerton put the ball in the net. Damn. Again, again, again.

By now we'd been denied a blatant penalty when a fiercely hit Barry shot was hand-balled in the box, and had a couple of other dodgy decisions go against us, as well as seen more misses and close shaves - a Gav header wide, a Barry pile driver missed by about an inch.

In truth though, despite Villa creating more chances (and missing them) Rovers were now able to control the game and they ran out comfortable winners.

It was cold, we lost a game due to poor finishing, poor goal-keeping and the opposition manager doing his job better than our manager.

Blackburn are 5th and looking at Europe. We're 15th and looking around wondering what on earth is going to happen to our club. It's drifting along in a sort of anaesthetised numbness.

Their players aren't better than ours. Their fans aren't better than ours. Their ground's not better than ours. So why is it? Arguments rage.

Anyway, some marks
Tommy - 4 - at fault for both goals, I felt
Aaron Hughes - 6
Freddie Bouma - 6
Olly - 7
Ridge 5

Luke - out of position 5
Gav - booked and will miss a game now 6
Stevie D - 6
Gareth Barry 8 (MoTM)

Kevin Phillips - 5 - just not involved enough
Baros - 6 - bad misses, but he was there to miss 'em and was our main "threat"

Subs - on for the last 7 minutes or so - Lee and JPA - 5 apiece. Why wait till the game is almost over, though?

Me, home for tea. 2 (degrees C)

 

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Strip Tees - Middlesbrough Away match report

 

Well, Crikey! I don't know exactly what to write.
I set off on my journey from the north-west to the north-east thinking we might see a tense, nervy, closely fought game, perhaps lacking in quality, probably to be poorly refereed, and maybe that Villa could sneak a win. But I didn't really know what to expect. You never do with the Villa though, do you?

If I'd been giving the team talk, I guess I'd have thought back to the Sunderland game - the last time we played in a red plastic stadium in the north east. In that game the first half was dreadful, but at half time it must have been realised that the opposition really were that bad, and if Villa just went at them, we'd romp it. And we did.

So perhaps more of that, only from the start, this time, would have been my message.

I say all the above with hindsight obviously, but that's certainly what looked to have happened today. We absolutely horsed poor Middlesbrough. Despite claims from both clubs before the game that their respective mid-week results had left them "full of confidence" I suspect that one of those claims was entirely spurious. Boro were dreadful. Really, terribly, shockingly bad. It's not that often that I roar with laughter at a football match, but I did twice today, and both were at hapless play by Boro players.  

Anyway, the match kicked off and Villa were "at it" straight away. Milner and Barry, Phillips and Moore giving the back 4 of Boro no time to play or linger. Gav was snaffling up the ball in midfield and we were dominating from the off.

After quarter of an hour we got our first reward. Luke Moore placing the ball into the bottom corner of the goal, across Schwarzer from the inside right position. Not the cleanest hit, but the placement was excellent.

Up to this point Boro hadn't so much as had an attack to speak of.

Shortly afterwards though a good cross in from their right side was missed by Viduka, when any sort of header would have resulted in a goal.
But Villa just went back up the field and scored again. A cross from out wide, by I think, JLloyd, right footed curled in towards Kevin Phillips in a similar place to where Luke scored from. But this time the ball was in the air, and Phillips facing the wrong way. He flicked it and directed it right into the same corner Luke scored in. 20 odd minutes gone. 2-0 Villa. Game surely over, given Boro were so bad.

Villa eased off a bit, but should still have scored again - a combination of Phillips and Barry somehow failing to score a sitter (at least it looked like that from 100 yards away).

Half time. Time to contemplate what was looking so easy. But only easy through the sort of hard work and team ethos that Wigan have thrived upon (to my delight) this season. A small mention for the referee at this point. He was good.

Boro took off Hasselbaink and Viduka and brought on Yakubu and Macaroni.

Kicking towards us, Villa continued to run the game and got further reward when Luke got his second. Good work by Barry, Davis, then Barry again ended with a cross to Luke's feet. His first shot was blocked by Southgate, but his second, as he was quickest to the ball made it 3-0.
As a Boro fan said afterwards, "Every time you attacked it looked like you would score"
This was as much due to the shambolic play of them as to our good play, though we were good.

Steven Davis nicked the ball from a red shirt in central midfield - the Boro man really should have looked up and passed - but Davis was able then to run straight through. He slotted a pass to Luke who chipped over the on-rushing Schwarzer to make it 4-0. He was never going to miss, having already scored two.

Barry was booked for a foolish reaction to being chopped down, Luke went off to rousing cheers, JLoyd too was substituted and applauded from the pitch. Olly also, double fist-clench saluting, got to sit out the last 10 or so.

The subs - Ridge, JPA and particularly Hendrie kept up the high standard of Villa play.

Lee showed some real class when he cushioned a ball dropping with snow on it, went past the gawping midfielders in red and set up a swift counter, and again with a run and cross field ball to the feet of Milner.
Maybe having his name chanted endlessly while he warmed up in front of us had got him gee'd up, maybe the competition and desire to play is what does it.

And so the game ended, and I drove home happy.

Some marks

Tommy - untroubled, almost nothing to do - 6

Hughes - controlled - 7
JLloyd - very good - 7.5
Olly - Dominant - 8
Delaney - Dominant - 8

Milner - boy does he work hard - 8
Barry - class 8
Gav McCann - Brilliant 9
Steven Davis, quiet 6.5
Luke Moore 9 and MoTM
Kevin Phillips 8

Subs, Lee, Ridge and JPA none on for long - 7 apiece

Manager and coaches 8. Job well done.

The ref did OK too.

Horsed 'em, honestly. It was brilliant. Onwards and upwards....

 
blandy

2005 Away match Reports

 
 

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Means To An End - A Trip to The Reebok

 

Well, that was interesting, in a kind of run o't'mill way.

You'll know by now that we got a draw at the Trotter-dome, home of the Über-dons and the world's wingeingest manager (I realise "wingeingest" is a sort of Americanism, but it seems appropriate given the tendency towards razzmatazz at the out of town shopping mall experience that is a trip to the Reebok), and home now too, to a new statue, just near the aforementioned splendid ground. It's a sort of cross between a sculpture of the European Cup, and, as Allan pointed out, "a Lava lamp".

You'll also know that Villa have been, well, a bit pants lately (i.e for about a year), so would we buckle under the high flying, long-throwing, Global trotters assault, or would the spirit and defence survive intact from a testing trip?

It turned out to be the latter. It wasn't, truth be told, a great game. Not much, you know, actually, well, happened, really.

There were, as the score-line rather gives away, a couple of goals - one for each side. Which seemed about right. And there were some dives (no need to detail who was guilty, but suffice to say he won't be driving home tonight, back to his Lordships residence, within spitting distance of his former club). At least the cheating git got booked for it. As did another unidentifiable tripe merchant in a white shirt.

But getting back to the legal action on the pitch, there were few incidents to linger long in the memory, or long enough to recount accurately in a match report. I remember after 23 minutes that Bolton had a header from one of their succession of corners, as they kicked towards the Villa fans in the first half. And a bit later they had another header, tipped on to the post by Tommy Sorenson. Mostly though, the first half consisted of Bolton, not perhaps at their most effective, failing to break down a Villa side which was rigidly determined and committed to thwarting their rather rudimentary ploys.

We had set out with Lee Hendrie surprisingly, but welcomed by me, supporting a lone striker - Baros, with Eirik Bakke alongside Gav in the middle. Stevie Davis rested on the bench. We didn't threaten, despite the odd outbreak of some decent football. I didn't mind. I was just pleased to see that the the team looked organised and together. Lee's invention is something I think we've missed badly.

At half time I went in search of some sustenance to soak up the pre-match beers and bought possibly the hottest item of food I've ever had - an Ashworth's meat and potato pie. This pie would probably have registered on the US governments spy satellite equipment, looking for all those "terrist" supporting regimes developing weapons of mass destruction with which they intend, apparently, to do down the freedoms of the Western Oil companies and their directors.

As it obviously took about half an hour before the glowing comestible cooled to munching temperature, I spent a fair while fussing around looking for more sachets of brown sauce with which to cool it's inner core, and paid not that much attention to what was only a slightly brighter (than the red glow from the very centre of the pie) game going on down below.

Bolton were perhaps looking a bit more lively, in their big boned way, but Olly, for once, was not being given the run around by Kevin Davies, and the rest of the defence too were solid.

Our problem was that with Milan up front alone, we didn't look like scoring, or threatening ourselves, despite matching Bolton generally.

The ref got his cards out after about an hour, and as a succession of miscreants went into his book the atmosphere hotted up. With the better noise in the ground, the players efforts started to edge closer towards the goals.

Eventually Bolton scored. A turn and shot at the far end, from a break, inside the box by, er, God knows who. A bit of a sickener with 10 minutes left.
With Baros having been taken off 5 minutes before that, to be replaced by Luke Moore, I felt at the time that conceding the goal was harsh, but was the sort of thing that happens when the manager settles for a point, rather than tries for the win. A braver substitution would have been to bring on a second striker to try to win the game. Still, the manager can't win I suppose. (Maybe that's the problem).

Anyway, Immediately they scored JPA was brought on for Lee Hendrie and Steven Davis for Milner.

With about 3 minutes of normal time left, Luke Moore managed to hold off a Bolton defender in the box, get up off the floor, send the defender the wrong way with a lovely turn and roll the ball across to JPA. With his back to goal JPA took a touch and from maybe 4 yards just managed to get enough power on the ball, on the half turn, to knock it past Jaaskelinen and over the swinging boot of a Boltonian galoot on the line.

It was then just a case of holding on, fairly comfortably till the whistle, though there was one alarm when Bolton broke into the box, but Tommy and Aaron Hughes managed to save the day.

Like I said at the start, it wasn't a great game, but it was a good day out and the resolve and organisation of the players was much improved from one or two recent games.

It was clear that a lot of time had been spent on plotting how to deal with Bolton's unique approach, and credit to the manager for that.

I'd have liked O'Leary to have been more positive with his first substitution, but would have settled I suppose for the result we got, before the start. The performance can best be summed up as "solid". 

Some marks.

Pre match beers - 8 - good company from Chris, Risso, Al and Aston, Clive, David others in the pub.

Tommy 7
Hughes 7
Bouma 7
Olly 7
Ridge 7
Milner 6 (Davis - not on long enough for a mark)
Gav 7.5 Motm
Bakke 6
Barry 6.5
Hendrie 6.5 (JPA a goal inside a minute, but not on long enough for a mark)
Baros 5 (Luke 6.5)

 

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Help Yourself - Sunderland Away Report

 

I wrote this last week, it's not my best report, but it'll do as a starter for 9

With my fingers having thawed out during the trek back home from the North East, I felt obliged to tap out a few words about todays "Main Event".

Football fans are a strangely unpredictable lot. Maybe it's something to do with football teams behaving in unpredictable manner.

Take today for example, I set out for Sunderland on a cold bright morning, expecting to go to a relatively poorly attended game between two struggling sides, a game in which not much decent football would be played, a game to be played out in front of a largely dispirited and "quick to grumble" crowd.

I got most of it wrong, frankly.

But who could have predicted that Sunderland would get their biggest crowd of the season, that the away end would be full? A better man than me, that's for sure.

Still the first half at least, turned out as predicted. It was frankly awful. The passing and control from most of the players most of the time was appalling. There were no gales, no ruts in the pitch, no other physical reason why they should all play so poorly. The mental reason - lack of confidence from recent results for both sides positively (or should I say negatively?) incapacitated them all. or almost all. James Milner most notably, was looking good.

Sunderland started reasonably enthusiastically, and had some half chances, Villa too, had a few half chances but neither team looked like scoring really - they couldn't keep the ball long enough - and the chances that were created came as a result of poor defending and lack of doing the simple thing. I think the best thing to do is maybe just say no more about the first 45 minutes.

Somewhere in the away dressing room, at half time, someone said something, I would imagine. It would have been to the effect of "This lot are absolutely dire, if you just move for each other, pass the ball like you actually want to get it to your team mates and if you up the pace a bit, we'll murder them."

I mean let's be honest about it. Sunderland are not any good at all. They're the worst side I've seen for a fair old while. And they know they're rubbish with it. Their fans deserve better.

Anyway, the second half started with Villa kicking off and attacking the shivering Claret and Blue masses gathered behind the goal. And attack they did, with at last, some real pace and purpose. Milner who had been the best of the attacking players in the first half was working hard and always looking to take on the full back. Baros started to look a bit more interested and Phillips was continuing to play solidly and intelligently.

Sunderland were playing mostly on the break, though the game metamorphosised from the slumbering caterpillar of the first half into a frenetic moth around the candle of the 3 points there for the taking home. End to end it fluttered, often at a fair old lick.

After 14 minutes or so in which about 10 times as much happened as in the first half put together, we finally took the lead we deserved. Baros rather than take the simple option of crossing the ball into the box for Phillips, took on two defenders on the right hand edge of the box, and appeared to have run down another blind alley, but just before the ball could take a rest by rolling out of play, he back heeled it whereupon it was fizzed across the box by the supporting Aaron Hughes and onto the waiting noggin of, inevitably, Phillips 4 yards out by the far post.

Properly he didn't "celebrate" the goal - the Sunderland fans had applauded all 3 of their former players, but the vocal thousand or so in the corner by us had also been chanting his name. He did great for them, after all. We celebrated to make up for his decorum.

The goal brought about a change in our confidence level, and Sunderland upped their efforts a gear too. Their crowd started to get behind their team for a while. Sunderland almost equalised within 4 minutes, but a powerful shot bounced down and away off the bar.

Their keeper was doing very well, and compared to Tommy in our goal was a lot, lot busier. He made several excellent one on one saves. 

Villa were on top, and our defence looked reasonably solid against their attackers - partly because Mellberg was having a very good game and partly because they were not good enough to take advantage of the times when our disorganisation let them in.

Just at the point where I was starting to think that we would be likely to end up trying to hang on at the end, that thought was banished by a second goal. Milner, again, did well on right wing after being picked out by a good pass from Barry, breaking down the left. Milner returned the favour and Barry had the easy task of scoring from the same spot as Phillips, but with his feet.

Game over. Exodus of Sunderland fans, along with their teams spirit. The fans who did stay kept singing away in the corner, mind.

Phillips, off after being clattered was replaced by Luke Moore and a neat back-heel from Moore put Baros through for a third, welted past the keeper from 15 yards.

We should have had a penalty when Luke had his shirt well tugged in the box after duping their full-back, but the ref, who saw it, bottled the decision.

He did though give them a pen right at the end, when Ridge and their forward were vying for the ball, It looked harsh, but I was a long way away to be able to tell, really.

By this time there were probably more Villa fans in the ground than Sunderland fans.

3 minutes of added time and the game was over. Olly looked very pleased.

One final thought - the win was vital, and I hope it brings back our confidence, but we're a long way from out of the woods yet. Sunderland, sadly for them, are very, very poor - but they're an honest bunch o' lads.

3-1 didn't flatter us, it flattered them.

Some player marks

Tommy - sound 7

Aaron Hughes - sound 7
Mellberg - excellent 7.5
Ridge - Decent-ish, 6 but gave away ANOTHER goal (via the penalty)
Bouma - mixed 5

Milner - Man of the match 8.5
Gav - terrible first half, OK second - 5
Davis - quiet first half, better second - 6.5
Barry - Excellent at times, average at others 6.5

Phillips - a decent game, some good work and hold up play and a goal 7.5
Baros - looked injured and unhappy first half. but did much better second, 7 and a goal.

Subs - Luke for Phillips - 7. Some top touches.
Other subs - Bakke and Hendrie for Baros and Davis with about 3 minutes left.

Credit to all who turned up, whoever they support. There must have been 40,000 there for a "relegation battle on a freezing cold day. Mad, really.

 

Electric Cupboard

 

I set up this account to post a comment on Ditchmonkey's blog (linked on the right), but since then I've retrieved a load of old match reports and other stuff I've written over the past few years for the most excellent  
VillaTalk site, and stuck them on here, really just to keep them all somewhere.

Hopefully all the old reports n'that will appear in the archive bit on the right - arranged by month and year.

I'm quite pleased that I've joined the ranks of all these folk who can work the internet properly (touch wood)

 

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Continental Drift - Manchester United Away

 

I went to Old Trafford today for our early o’clock, Pay TV, Barclays Premier Game against Manchester United.

Due to the early kick off time and a few amenable post match beers in the August sunshine, I’ve been contemplating a few things.

Firstly it’s been in the papers all week, but Villa haven’t won at what used to be "Old Trafford" but now is apparently just “The theatre of dreams” (according to the tickets, at least) since 1983.

I was actually there that day. One of maybe 1000 or so Villa fans who were. From memory, I think the trip up from Brum cost around 4 quid on the travellers club coach, and it was maybe £2.50 to get in - call it a tenner for the day out. From hazy memory, we were lucky to get the win there. We were under pressure for a lot of the game, but Peter Withe, twice, and Bryan Robson, late on, made it a memorable game - well they and the hostile United fans who threw stones at our Bowens coaches, did.

What’s the relevance to today?

Almost none. 

In today’ phase 3 of the premiership, fans are asked to pay the best part of 40 quid, to get up early for the journey up from the midlands and beyond, plus probably another 20 quid or so at least travel costs. And that's just the United fans (boom, boom). The game is broadcast on Sky + TV for the armchair, or pub, viewer and the TV audience comes first, of course.

No-one throws stones, and instead of 48,000 vociferous Mancs, we get 64,000 meek tourists and 3000 unexpectant Villans, some of us, no doubt, tourists too. Digital cameras were all the range in block E230. 

The flags are gone from the Stretford end, the soul from both clubs. Only some of us remain, retaining the link to the games of the past .

It’s not all bad. Fans mingled happily in the warm sunshine and talked of test matches and Americans, old men and parsimony. Even the odd conversation about football.

Phase 1 of the prem saw a bright new dawn. “A whole new ball game” Sky called it. Shackles were cast off, the game re-born as family entertainment. The prem was won by Man U that first year, Villa were worthy runners up. Both games between the sides were drawn.

The second phase of the Prem. saw the suits and smart operators rake in the cash, share flotations and ticket price inflation. But the fans enthusiasm was buoyant. Rightly so.

I for one enjoyed the reduced hostility, the gradual general recognition that liking football didn’t mean you were a thug. I enjoyed too, Villa’s challenge for trophies in those early years. Before the gap got too big.

Now we’re into phase 3. And it's not nearly so appealing.

Chelsea, thanks to billions of Russian roubles, rule the roost. Arsenal and Man U have £100,000 a week players and mid-week Euro-telly cup commitments. Villa have a sick old pensioner refusing to let go and 17 fit players at the start of the season. Not a hope.

It’s even gone wrong for Man United, for so long the “cock” of the North” (indeed). From multi-million pound money machine, to multi-million dollar debt. Silent Tourist hordes inhabit their impressive stadium, witnessing, not participating.

Their soul has gone to FCUM, along with those Stretford end banners proclaiming the "Repubik of Mancunia" and City's ineptitude.
The only time I associate “Our Soul” with Villa is when I think of what Ellis has done, but that’s just phonetics for you. 

Anyway, as for the match itself, United won 1-0. They scored with maybe 15 or 20 minutes left, after Whittingham gave the ball away criminally and United broke with speed. A deflected cross falling for Horse Face to score past a previously impassable Tommy Sorenson.

In truth neither the Villans in the crowd, nor anyone else can have been surprised or disappointed. We set out, 4-5-1 to hold the game to 0-0, and thanks to a solid defensive effort we did OK at holding them at bay. United aren’t the great side they were 6 years ago, but they’re still a lot better than we are. A goal was inevitable, despite our diligence at defending.

United’s subs were Ronaldo and Heinze. Ours were mostly kids - Luke and Gary Cahill. Though Nobby Solano came on once we were behind.

I imagine most people will have, or soon will, see the TV highlights, so there’s not much point going over the details. Save for mentioning good performances from Liam Ridgewell, Gareth Barry, Tommy - our man of the match, and an improvement by Gav after last week. The ref, P. O’Dowd was not too hot, but didn’t change the result, so that’s some consolation, I suppose.

For the sake of a link with last season, I feel obliged to mention the continuing appalling state of the rail network. Emergency Engineering works and an “incident on the line” meant more travel turmoil for Risso and myself.

Oh and we did have a shot. Just the one, but like 1983, I can say “I was there”

Some player mark/comment thingies

Tommy S - 8.5 MoTM - safe and secure. Unlucky to be on the losing side. Extra browny points for being the only player to wander over to the travelling Villans at the end of the game. Nice one Tom.

Aaron Hughes - 6.5 - solid.
Jlloyd - 5 (Eric Djemba Djemba 1st half sub - 6) Jlloyd was injured by a bad and unpunished Keane tackle.
Olly - 6 Hmmm
Ridge 7.5 - he’s has some deserved and some undesrved stick, but he was the business today.

Barry 7.5 (moved to LB when JLS - 6) got injured - good game, as usual at O.T. for Gareth. In a game where our passing was often careless and wasteful he was an exception, and he defended well, too

Gav - 6. Better, less careless passes, but still some way short of his best. He needs games, I guess.
Stevie D - 5.5 - a mixture of his usual good touch, but some wasteful passing. Some good runs off the ball, but not seen by...
Whitts - 5 - worked hard, did well for 50 minutes apart from some poor use of the ball. 3 times wasted dangerous possession. His sloppy pass led to their break for the goal. Concentrate. Peter. (Luke on for the last 15 mins - 5) 
Ulisses - 5 - anonymous. (Nobby - 6. The guile is there. Wonder why he didn’t start?) 

JPA - 5 alone up front for most of the game. Spent his time in Rio Ferdinand’s pocket.

I thought we’d get gubbed, before the game, so I guess the result was less bad than predicted. But it was still a nailed on cert. we’d lose.

That needs to change, but it’ll be a while till that happens.

USA 1, England nil. And I really don’t care.

 

Monday, June 20, 2005

He Who Would Valium Take

 

This little missive is not a result of any deep thinking on my part, and in many ways I am going slightly against my own intuition, but something’s just sort of bugging me, so I thought I’d write this to scratch the itch as much as anything.

Right then, here’s some random thoughts .

Firstly, We’ve been wanting Ellis out of the club for, well, since he came back in the early 80’s basically. So why do so many of the people who recognise his negaitive impact on the club seem to be muttering that things are “even worse” at a time when the old scrote is absent ill? On this one I don’t agree. I think we’re better off with Steve Stride doing the admin on transfers than Ellis, for the time being. Longer term we need a properly professional CEO (we did have one, but he resigned).

But for just now who would you rather represent Villa alongside the manager when talking to prospective signings? - Ellis or Stride? It’s a walk over for the administrator over the egotist every day isn’t it?

Second niggle is the concentration on “so and so have been linked with player X”

Yeah, and?

I know it’s the summer and we have to talk about something (we’re told by the papers who of course have an interest in selling copies)

A newspaper reporter fills half a page with a rumour that would get short shrift if one of us posted the same story on the messageboard and yet we work ourselves into a ferment because another club were “said” to be ahead of us in the queue.

Silly season? Well named.

Third thought - The good is getting swamped by the gloom. I’m not doing a sales pitch here, but nevertheless there’s something worth quietly pointing out. It’s this. Customer service. 

Each year for the past 2 or 3 closed seasons the club has been getting a few things more right (less wrong?) in terms of looking after the matchgoing “customer”

Season ticket prices are, for England, “competitive” and appropriate for the circumstances and aims of the club (and fans). We have a big, not quite full ground. We have a very large, but reticent, and sceptical fanbase. The prices and schemes available are in my view pretty much spot on.
The cost of a season ticket is reasonable, there are deals for various groups such as children, students, post-students, and so on. The facilities for disabled people are apparently excellent. All this is not “headline” stuff, But it’s all important. Aston Villa is a leader I feel in this field.

The website thingy for season ticket renewal is however a disgrace - it seems to be inoperative for a start. Big black mark there. What’s the point on offering internet extras for renewing on-line when the flipping on-line site is duff and renewal therefore impossible this way?

Another further evolved innovation is the away ticket scheme. It started off as a service for regular away travellers, whereby the club would post you a ticket for every away game if you (at no cost) registered (you had to be a season ticket holder).

Then last year they introduced a “5 returns and you’re out” policy. Sensible I suppose.

This next season we have to pay 25 quid for the first time to join the scheme. No-one likes paying for something that used to be free, BUT, you will be able to tell the club up front which games not to send you tickets for (once the fixtures are announced). So for the price of postage
plus a quid a game to cover admin costs the regular away fans will be able to get their tickets for the away games they want, and only the games they want, automatically sent. There will be mishaps due to Sky and the Police no doubt, but the combination of service to the fans and covering costs is good, Very good, Ahead of the game again.

One of the big improvements to my mind last season was the away ticketing. The club seemed more attuned to the demand from supporters, and anecdotally ( I haven’t collected figures) the away allocations we took and sold out seemed bigger and better. There’s nothing winds me up more than Villa taking reduced allocations for matches and loads of fans who want to go being unable to. It used to happen a lot. Now I think it’s not so much of a problem.

Anyway, enough about ticketing.

What about the stuff we all talk about? Players.

Here the news is less encouraging, given the eagerness of the club to tell us all about “substantial funds” a couple of months ago.
What we’ve seen so far is business as usual for Villa in recent years. A couple of low price players in and a couple of players out for no fee.
We haven’t as yet shown any sign of landing any of the “quality players” we were led by the club to expect. But there’s time yet. I expect the next couple of weeks to be the sign of whether the talk was just that, or whether there really is an intent to return to putting improving the football team first and foremost as the objective of the board.

I quite like the notion of Newcastle paying over the odds for the “hyped” players like Scott Parker, potentially excellent as he may become, while we seek out and add quality away from the press’s recycled whirl of the same old names.

Mellberg, Laursen, even JPA - almost none of us where aware they were available until seemed certain to sign them. They hadn’t been endlessly “linked” with Liverpool Newcastle Everton and Spurs in the cosy agent-paper rumour generating round.

So for now, I’ll wait and see, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

 

Monday, May 16, 2005

TPA - Liverpool Away Match Report

 

Mercifully the last of these rambles for at least a month or 3 

So the last day of the season and with all left to play for (for other teams), off I went to Theme Park Anfield, with 3000 other Villans to see whether it would be Three Points Away, or Throw Points Away for our patched up team. When the team was announced over The PA, it turned out that Eric Djemba Djemba had kept his place after his second half last week, Jlloyd had lost his unsurprisingly, and Mark Delaney was again a makeshift left centre half. There was no Three pronged Attack, just JPA and Darius.

The game started brightly for Villa, with the team looking lively, as Anfield settled into quietness. Gradually Liverpool worked their way on top and with Villa looking disorganised at the back, something was bound to give, It did. After 19 minutes, a fairly needless lunge by Delaney on Cisse gave them a penalty. Cisse scored easily enough. 10 minutes later, more poor defending left Cisse again to score from just inside the box, with the defenders not doing their job well enough. Barry was beaten for pace on their right and the cross found Cisse unmarked.

Vassel had not been in the game at all, and JPA was not doing much on his own.

Still, second half, we'd be attacking our own support - many conga-ing in fancy dress or taking the mickey out of a fat redscouse in the main stand.

Luke came on for Darius at HT, and the other 2 subs - Cole for JPA and JLloyd for Hendrie also didn't have to wait long to get on.

Anyway, the result of this changing around was that after a period of meandering nowhere the game came to life a bit, Villa started putting pressure on the Liverpool defence, and with Nobby and Davis both alert lively and clever, we scored from a nice move. Barry lashing in from Nobby's headed pass. Liverpool his the bar, the ball going behind, and Riise hit a tremendous long range shot which just missed. But Villa were making Liverpool panic at the back, in a way sadly familiar to Villa fans this season.

Luke hit the bar with a header over Carson, Cole shot wide, other moves just failed to be finished off. But we gave it a go.

And the game ended. Liverpool did a lap of honour prior to their Eurotelly Cup final (good luck to them by the way) to more noise than the crowd made while the game was on.

The Villa players too, said their farewells for the summer. Top marks to our 2 Danes for casting their sweaty kit into the away throng.

So that's it. No more grotty North West trains for a few months, no more "why did I bothers", no more unexpected triumphs or defeats.

It's been OK I suppose. 10th place is about where we deserved to finish. The players with a few exceptions in some games, tried their best. We had hardly a team with all the centre backs and forwards fit all season, and there has been much mucking about with the midfield too.

In the warm sun it was good to see Gav on the bench, Steven Davis continue to grow as a real find, and many of the Villans even cheered West Brom's survival, when it was announced.

Some marks for today

Thomas - 7 did well. Not at fault for either goal
Ulises - looked fine 6
Gareth Barry - 7. Plays the Captain's role well.
Martin Laursen - Accomplished - 7.5
Mark Delaney - 5 (but on the left in the centre he's well out of position)
Nobby 7.5 - He's class
Lee - 5 quiet (Jlloyd 6)
Steven Davis - 7 - getting better and better.
Darius 4 invisible (Luke 6 - made a difference. Unlucky on a coule of occasions not to score)
JPA 4 likewise, really (Cole 7 - looked good, played well and caused trouble).

 

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Don’t Fight It, Feel It - Newcastle Match Report

 

Yep, an extraordinary day alright. Those present witnessed something not seen for a very long time. I don’t mean of course the sunny weather in Tyneside, or indeed the ascent of the 195 steps to my seat at the back row of the upper tier of L7 at St Zebra’s park. No, the thing that was really quite extra-ordinary was something that happened on the pitch.

Villa absolutely dominated an away game, played the other team off the park. So much so, in fact that three of the opposition decided they wouldn’t actually stay on the field of play. 2 of them for, quite ridiculously, stupidly having a bit of a tantrum and fighting with each other. That the two “combatants” were Lee “rat-boy” Bowyer and Kieron “Diamond Earrings” Dyer will come as no surprise to anyone at all.

But more of that later. First the match, proper. Within 4 minutes of the kick off, Villa had a throw down the right hand side. Delaney to Davis, curling cross swung in towards Vassel, poor clearing header from the centre-back and JPA, back in the side after injury, adjusted his feet and absolutely belted the ball past Given to give the Villans in the upper slopes cause for leaping around and chanting “easy”. So we did.

Newcastle came at Villa quite strongly for a while, with Robert causing problems and our defence being dragged around a bit. Some solid tackling and bodies flung in the way, as well as a good save from Tommy S, held on to our lead. It wasn’t like it normally is though - Villa’s use of the ball, controlled football and quick movement was causing more problems for them, than they were to us.
In the first half we had, apart from the goal, 3 other really good chances. All fell to Barry. He hit the post with one right foot shot after cutting inside, volleyed over after chasing after a lobbed flick on from Darius and had another effort superbly blocked by their defender.
Newcastles main threat was from free kicks by Robert. With Shearer either winning or conceding a free kick just about each time he challenged for the ball, they had a few pot shots, but all were blocked, wide or saved. Dyer, too had a chance which he put wide.

So second half, could we get a second? Ridge was on for Olly at H-T.
Villa played better and better as the game went on, Vassels pace was the difference, but with the whole team playing well, and being well organised it was a joy to watch.
Darius charged down a defender, nicked the ball away, rounded Given, took the ball in on goal and was sticking it in the net when another defender, having got back onto the line then handballed the shot away. Result red card and a penalty.
Barry stepped up and blasted the ball into the net.
5 minutes later, Vassel, again, burst through 2 defenders into the box, was tripped by Carr.
Barry again belted the ball unstoppably into the same corner.
3-0 to us and them with 10 men. We were cruising.

It was about this point that “rat-boy” decided he didn’t like Kieron.
The geordies who had already left would have missed the bout. Unfortunately I half did too, as I was watching the ball about to be thrown in. All I saw was Barry grab hold of the narky midget with anger management problems and haul him away from a ruckus, still swinging and raging.

The ref and both linesmen consulted. Rat boy went off, and Dyer who I hadn’t seen do anything was sent off too, after some consulting.

With only 8 men on the pitch to oppose them, Villa just strolled the rest of the game. Nobby came on for Lee. The whistle went.

A romp in the sun. Amazing.
Some marks, quickly,

Tommy 8 - excellent goalkeeping.
Mark Delaney - 7.5 What a relief to have him back.
JLloyd 6.5 - decent defending, one slip nearly cost us
Olly 7. (Ridge 6)
Martin Laursen - 8.5 Superb MotM (just)
Lee Hendrie. Brilliant second half, OK first. 7.5
Steve Davies - 7
Hitz 6
Barry 8. Very, very good.
JPA 6.5 tired and went off eventually after getting clouted in the fisog by a ball.
Darius 8 - looked fit, fast and committed.

And finally, the manager. Usually the view doesn’t allow you to see much of the tactics, but from on high at Newcastle you could see the way the centre halfs were tracking the forwards way out of the box, Delaney was tracking Robert, and the organisation was splendid. Well done to DO’L and RA.

I still can’t quite believe what I saw.

 

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Blind Vision

 

Inspired by something Drat posted, on VillaTalk (see links on right) I trundled through some old results for some quotes to illustrate how the attitude of the board/Ellis has changed in the last 5 years or so.

All quotes are from the Reports to shareholders - no newspaper stuff, just Herberts own words in the Clubs reports to its shareholders.

Herbert wrote:
26th January 1999

I believe that success on the pitch will bring commercial success and that can only be achieved by maintaining and strengthening the playing squad......Changes might be imminent which could see a further polarisation of additional finances to the most successful clubs. I would particularly refer you to the potential changes in European competitions and broadcasting rights, but also to the commercial spin offs that the successful clubs can exploit. Therefore, despite the current inflation in player costs following the Bosman changes, it is even more important that we continue to invest in the squad and have a team who can justify their billing as one of the top English clubs.....The strategy adopted will see salaries increasing for 1998/99 by in excess of 30%. This has been met by increased income in the first half year and the ability to continue to absorb those increases will be dependant on our final league position at the end of this season.

So he used to believe (or at least claim to) that it was necessary to invest in players to do well on and off the pitch

Herbert wrote:
23 January 2002
Much ill informed media comment has been made about our lack of investment in the squad. ....our pockets are not as deep as some other clubs, nor are we prepared to embark on the very high risk strategies employed by others. As a result we have had to mitigate substantial operating losses by profitable player trading,,,In the four and half year period to 30 November 2001 over £28m net transfer fees has been expended....

Change of emphasis there, for sure

Herbert wrote:
1 August 2003
The financial difficulties that I forecast in my previous reports regarding excessive playing costs has hit many clubs hard. Most noticeably affected are, those clubs that have FA Premiership infrastructures but have lost that status, and others who have reached for the stars of the European Champions League but have fallen short and have had to retrench or seek alternative solutions.

The game is increasingly being divided by the financial resources available to clubs. Aston Villa continues to operate within its resources and this has made the challenge of competing regularly for honours but remaining financially stable extremely difficult.

Mark Ansell wrote:
1 August 2003
Aston Villa can no longer rely on profits on players sales to absorb excess player costs and has embarked on a strategy of reducing salary and amortisation costs....Recent and future purchases have and will be made with a strategy of reducing total player costs as soon as is commercially practicable.

More emphasis on cutting costs. Not much about increasing revenue, mind. Nothing at all really. Took it for granted, I guess.

Herbert wrote:
27 January 2004
it is my intention to relinquish the position of Chief Executive as and when a new Chief Executive is appointed.....the new Chief Executive will ....be responsible for developing and implementing the overall business strategy to meet ambitious growth targets which will build on the changes already in place in order to achieve our full commercial potential.

Ah there we go. Appoint someone to do this, er, I mean a new CEO, sorry.

Herbert wrote:
28 January 2005
In order to reduce both the wage bill and future amortisation costs, in 2003/04 the Board terminated the contracts of several players who could not command a first team place. Overall, staff costs are 7.1% lower compared to the same period last year

[Playing] Results have fluctuated considerably during the season with some exciting wins and some very disappointing defeats which saw us in 5th position in the League on 22 November and 11th position now

It has proved difficult to secure the availability of the right players at the right price. The Manager and Board would rather defer purchases until the end of the season unless the opportunity arises which satisfies these criteria. Funds which are not utilised during the current transfer window will be added to those made available during the next close season. However, the Club does not have the level of funding of some of the big spending clubs and must therefore spend its resources prudently and continue to supplement the squad with loan players....

So there you have it in Ellis's own words. We used to try and compete, and now we have a plan to cut costs. We missed the boat, so he's given up (look at the top quote for the comparison)
And strangely we have a small squad and the results have fluctuated (injuries anyone?)

All this is, in his own words, makes another pretty good case to say why he should go, I think.

I used a song title (again) for this article, but I do wonder whether others will ever see past another song title - "The Only One I Know"

 

Sunday, January 23, 2005

What if we give it away? - Man Utd Away Report & Ratings

 

Man Utd 3 Aston Villa 1,
FA Barclays Premiership,
Old Trafford.

After a short break for excursions to other parts, the North West match reports return in the form of this offering from Trafford borough.

And they wouldn't be what they were without mention of the shocking train "service".

I walked up to the local train station to get the 11:07 to Manchester, only to find it had broken down and was cancelled. With no chance of another train for at least an hour, my trusty red car was called into action. So off we trundled.. Luckily it's not far to Manchester from Lytham, so I was able to park up and walk to the pub in the centre of town by about 12:20.

Meeting up with Jon, who nipped in from Macc just for a pint or two and a chat (good effort!), and Risso who was also going to the game, we spent an hour or so talking about what we should expect - would it be 4-5-1 (it was) and all things Villa. Most agreeable - and the Robinson's bitter wasn't bad either.

On to the game, and after a short tram ride we found ourselves in the usual away corner and a goal down after only 8 or so minutes.

A simple move by United, defenders not tracking their men and Ronaldo shot from about 12 yards past Tommy. Nice of us to give him all that time and space, but pretty rudimentary bad defending. Delaney got hurt trying to dive across to get a tackle in. He went off shortly afterwards, to be replaced by Uli.

The rest of the first half was failry even. Both sides pushing forwards, Carroll saved well from Solano after a corner, Hendrie powered a shot just wide and Barry landed a peach of a cross on JPA's head, but his header was directed straight at the keeper. United too had several good attacks. Keane was booked for a nasty tackle on Hendrie (who was later booked himself).

Half time, 1-0 to them. One suggestion was to take off Berson (also booked) and put on Hitz, to give us a bit more of a goal threat.

This is what happened. And within 6 or 7 minutes of the restart we were level. Some good passing and Barry cut in from the left and whacked a well hit shot right into the bottom corner. Nice finish, perhaps Carroll might have saved it.

For the next 15 minutes or so, Villa looked the better, more adventurous side. Hendrie was breaking forwards well, JPA was doing well, and was being supported by Barry and L'il Lee, with Nobby and Uli also giving back up. Hitz shot at Carroll.
It was by no means all Villa - United, while being a long way short of their best sides of the past 10 years are still full of quality players and Scholes, Keane and Ronaldo were notably good for them. Ronaldo has a really nasty diving habit, and he and Ridge were both booked after the Winger retaliated against what he saw as a foul.

Unfortunately for Villa, typical of a side with a bad away record, having done so well to fight back into the game, they then made 2 really stuipd errors to give United 2 goals in a minute. First Davis tried a little flicked pass, which was read and intercepted. Not wise just outside your own box. From the run down our left a cross came in and I think an own goal was scored, although the announcer said it was Saha. 2-1

Within seconds, more clown like defending resulting in a shot straight at Tommy, which he pushed straight up into the air for Scholes to nod into the net from about 6 yards.

Game over, Fergie took off Rooney and Ronaldo and brought on Giggs and O'Shea. Nobby (another booked player) went off for us, and Luke Moore came on.

Jlloyd had picked up his 5th booking of the season for chiopping down Ronaldo, and so will miss Fulham away.
Both teams still had chances, although some of the fight had drained from a few Villa players. Another Barry shot was not properly saved by Carroll, and Luke missed the rebound, coming at him quickly, from 6 yards. Not good.

I know everyone mentions how quiet Old Trafford is, but it really is amazing for 64,000 United fans to make so little noise. the 3000 Villans in the away corner were much more vocal, despite our lamentable away record.

Some Marks

TS 4.5 - Goalies are meant to save goals, not gift them. He's a good keeper, tommy, but he does have a habit of letting in stuff he shouldn't from time to time.

Mark Delaney (not on llong enough) subbed by Uli - 6

JLloyd - 6 - hopefully the rest from the suspension will give him time to improve his groin injury.

Liam 6

Olly 7. Risso was right to say he played well, but is not a natural leader

Nobby 5. Away from home he is not the same player. Worked hard defensively, some "almost" passes that would have been brilliant, but didn't quite get there. Might have had a penalty if it had been at VP. subbed by Luke Moore 4.5, poor, to be honest.

Lee 7.5 - played very well. In his best role as the attacking midfielder in the centre he was the main creator and linker of play. Obviously better when we are going forwards than defending.

Berson 6 (OK' ish . Got booked) subbed by Hitz HT sub 6. More adventurous than Berson, but lets people run past him too easily at times.

Gareth Barry 7.5 (MotM, just, for Villa) I think he's playing as well recently as he has ever. His game has changed a bit, he looks to score more, but still created chances and defended well too.

Steven Davis 5. looked a bit over-awed at times, but still put in the effort and has the talent. He's a good little player, alright.

JPA 6 - This lone striker business is a killer for him, but he looked less out of sorts than in some games.

So another visit to OT is done with. There's not much soul to the place, this megalith of marketing and day-trippers. Most peculiar.

Maybe they only really rouse themselves for European games and games against their ore immediate competitors, but I do wonder whether the "Red machine" isn't corroding away a bit.

We could have got a draw today, but for some joke defending, lacking in concentration, but I think some of the red teams of old would have given us a tonking.

 

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bluster - Sheffield United Away

 

A rather windswept report, this one, from Bramall Lane

Right then, this isn't going to be easy.

I went to Sheffield today to watch the Villa away in the FA Cup. I left home at 9 O'Clock this morning, with the wind in the North West not so much tearing the leaves from the trees, as tearing the branches from the trunks. And just for show it was hurling hailstones horizontally at anything still bolted down.

Trepidation about making a journey in these conditions was matched by my trepidation for what I would probably witness.

As it happens part of the trepidation was misplaced - the journey wasn't too bad, as the weather eased off towards the east.

But on the pitch, Oh dearie, dearie me. After a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord (splendid) with Ian (Drat) from this board, and his son and daughter I was feeling quite relaxed. It didn't last long.
The two teams had taken to the pitch for the early o'clock TV game in front of a half full stadium. It was a shame to see huge expanses of empty seats, as well as a bit of a surprise at just how many there were. What with Sheffield United being on a good run and renowned cup battlers with a number of Premier league club scalps to their name in recent seasons.
Enter the timid and half hearted, out of form, away day pushovers that Aston Villa have become.

Most of the people who read this will, I guess have seen the match either on the box, or at the ground. So I won't bother too much with the details, save to say that by half time we could quite reasonably have been 2 goals down. We had little grip on midfield, the forwards were unable to hold the ball up and the defence was a mixture of lacadaisical defending and confusion.

Tommy saved a number of times from forwards clean through, or unchallenged with good opportunities to score. And one blinding save from a header.

The comedy linesman down our end didn't help, giving Sheffield corners when the ball was still clearly in play and then in the second half he gave a goal kick to them for one of the most obvious corners you'll ever see. Luckily on that occasion even the Ref, who was poor, could see it was a corner. But I digress.

Only Gareth Barry looked to be a threat, attacking wise. Cole was simply dreadful, outjumped and outfought by tiny wee Wrighty (who had a good game and was well recieved by the Villa fans). JPA is no longer a "striker", he's become just a bloke who plays up front and lays the ball off. No goal threat at all.
Nobby might as well not have been on the pitch. Gav was patchy, Lee not involved much. In defence Delaney was wandering about at right back, often out of position.
JLloyd was half asleep and his passing dire. Olly, the Captain got on with his own game, but provided no inspiration.

Still 0-0 at half time. What would DO'L do?

Second half we scored after a minute. Gareth Barry finishing off a quick move with a powerful right foot Volley. Gav went off and Berson came on. But being Villa we immediately let Sheffield United score from a corner. Not great marking. But Villa were better than in the first half at this point and were getting more into the game and pressing for a second. The passing was more on the deck. Nobby went off and Davies came on. Further improvement. Cole off Luke on. Hurrah!

And then a shot by Barry hit the hand of a defender outside the box. "Play on" You're kidding?
United broke down Samuels side the lad shot, the ball went under Tommy I think, and despite looking a tad offside, the goal was allowed.

As Villa pressed Alan Wright clearly handled a JPA pass in the area. Again no hand-ball given. This one was cast iron.
Then another break away by United a minute later and it's 3-1. Was the shot deflected, or did it bounce strangely? I couldn't see clearly, but again I thought it might have been saved.

By now heads had dropped, and Lee's had got a bit hotter.

So what to make of it?
First Well done to Sheffield United- they were deserved winners and showed way more fight and character than did Villa. They created more chances, and despite being helped by the ref, twice, there can be no claims of "we wuz robbed".
Second, the reaction of the players and fans at the end. The fans were singing "you're not fit to wear the shirt" and banging the seats in sheer displeasure at the performance. I joined in with neither, but I could sympathise. It tells you all you need to know about Villa at the moment though. Unhappy and lacking in harmony.

As the players skulked off, only Mark Delaney and Tommy even bothered to acknowledge the Villa fans. I think the rest realised they weren't going to get any thanks back.

The team is out of form, on a bad run. When that happens, as it does to all teams sooner or later, I want to see their character and effort and commitment. In too many it was absent. And probably absent before the start.

So here is the roll call of dishonour:

Tommy - 5 - one good save, tried to keep play going. Should have saved at least one of the last 2 goals, and probably both. Effort & character OK.
Mark Delaney. 5 - still half in Centre half mode. Confused positioning. A mixture of decent defending and offering nothing going forward.
JLloyd. 4. Slack, poor passing, gave up.
Olly - 6. Character was there, defended OK. But as Captain I want to see him doing some sorting out of underperforming colleagues.
Liam - 5 made mistakes. Head dropped. Young lad learning, benefit of the doubt.

Gav. 6. went off after about 50 minutes. Nothing special while he was on, but has the necessary "heart".
Nobby. 4. AWOL most of the game. Doesn't seem to turn it on away from home. Not good enough from someone as good as he can be.
Lee. 5. Got more involved as the game progressed. No problem with his head dropping. Kept trying.
Gareth Barry. 7. Our only threat and only creator. Scored, tried, played well. Let down by his team mates. He's not in the best form of his life, but the will was there, where it was so absent from others. Well done Sir.
JPA - 4. Never remotely looked like scoring or even even a threat really. Seems to be content with "link up play". Little service, mind.
Carlton Cole. 3. If it wasn't for the fact that there is no-one else I'd send him back to Chelsea forthwith. Look interested? No. Hold the ball up? No. Pass to team mates? Once or twice at most. Work back and help? No. Be ashamed, Carlton Cole.

Subs
Stevie Davies. Well done. You cared. 7
Berson. Quite good for 15 minutes. Poor for the other 25.
luke 5. Had a half chance, or could have passed to Barry, but mishit an attempted shot on the turn. A bit rabbit in the headlights, I thought. But he's a kid. 18.

And the manager? says he's got an honest bunch of lad's. He's lying. They cheated us and him today, most of them. He did sort out the problems at half time - preventing Sheffield from having as much of the ball in midfield. The tools he has to work with are those of an unambitious mid table club. The lack of strikers is a massive handicap, There's no back up
left back, other than moving someone out of position. We need another centre half.

The deep rooted long term problems of the way the club is run are getting to him as they inevitably would. He's looked after his staff, protects his players in public and has my support. nevertheless I want to see us turn it round. He struggled to do this at Leeds when they went on a bad run, and appears to be having the same problem at Villa.
It's a concern.

It's also true that largely the players are the same ones who were so poor away from home under GT, too. He sorted it out last season, but the meekness has returned.
I don't know the answer, but I pay to watch, I'm not paid to sort it out.

At the end of this bluster what I want to see is improved character and fibre from the players, No strolling about, seemingly uncaring or unwilling to work hard on their own games and to help their team mates. I want to see DO'L make changes earlier when things go wrong. He needs, in my view, to lay the law down to a number of them. Stop talking down those not in the team, make the ones in the team afraid for their places.

And Ellis stand down, appeal for new people to come in take the club forward. You have failed, and failed and failed. Get out.

 
 
blandy

2004 Away Match Reports

 
 

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Waiting for the great leap forwards - Middlesborough match report

 

A somewhat under the weather match report from the north.

So, here we are again. Another visit to Teesside, this time in winter.
Last season, when I drove up and across the penines it was spring, the fields and hills were covered in lush green grass and fluffy white lambs. Today, the journey was every bit as beautiful, but the scenery had changed. Snow topped the hills, the lambs, those that had survived the pot, were fully grown and wearing their thick winter coats. The sun shone intermittently down and illuminated the dry brown scrub and frozen looking lakes and streams.

I sneezed and coughed and my car wheezed along more happily, whilst the the skies turned grey and cold once the north east came into view.

The stadium was cold and empty too, until just before kick off, the masses huddled in the concourses, though in truth they were little warmer.

Villa made a tactical change, playing 5 in midfield, with Whitts coming in for the ineffective Carlton Cole. JPA was up front on his own.

After the first 10 minutes, in which Boro had dominated, Villa settled nicely and began to start creating chances. Gareth Barry was doing well, and he first put across a great ball to the far post with his right foot, from which Steve Davies really should have scored, but scooped over, then Barry himself, put through well managed to beat Schwarzer, but a defender headed off the line. JPA grazed the bar from a Barry corner.

Immediately after the goalline clearance Boro broke, Olly played JFH onside and his run turned Delaney and he shot hard and low into the net past a helpless Tommy. Olly and Tommy had already had one bust up after the keeper came rushing out to a ball that was Olly's, fell over and left the net unguarded only for Downing (I think) to mis-queue his shot.

Still, going forward we were doing okay, although Whitts was a passenger - giving the ball away and being by-passed in midfield. He looked lost. The only thing he did "right" was foul a breaking JFH, for which he rightly got booked.

Half time and 1-0 down.

After a half time shiver the game restarted with Villa dominating totally. Unfortunately for all the great football we played at times - Davies (he reminds me more and more of Gordon Strachan) Barry, JPA, Nobby, Uli, and Berson (on for Whitts) were linking really well together - chances came and were missed. JPA at the end of a lovely move missed a sitter. Barry dived in and knocked the ball just wide. Surely we would score?

But no. A mistake by Olly - heading the ball straight to Nehmet ( I think it was) left Boro 3 on 2 and Job scored easily after some good passing.

2-0 down, yet having played well. You can't go missing chances at one end and gifting goals at the other, though, and expect to get anything.

We continued to attack, but the ball just wouldn't go in - crosses into the box were cleared or missed altogether, the post was hit by Barry. Cole came on for Gav, and did nothing. Schwarzer saved from JPA from a shot and also from a header from a good Barry corner.

Late on another break, down Boro's left and their full back, Reiziger lashed a shot at Tommy. He dived out of the way of it, and a very harsh 3-0 score resulted.

I don't quite know what to make of it - It was a mixed bag, not all bad. 3 mistakes cost 3 goals, misses meant we failed to score. Yet there was promise there too. JPA played better on his own than with Cole - the goals will come. Barry played much better, Davies was alert and alive. And the 45 minutes of Matieu Berson was very promising. Sure he did one daft back-heel which lead to a Boro break, but that apart his passing was good, he was available all the time, had a good touch and passed well. he also put in a great tackle wide on the touchline.

Boro are a pretty good side, full of confidence and with forwards who are in form (or more so than ours) and defenders who know to do the simple things.

Villa are, at the moment, in that typical Villa state of neither this nor that.
We make too many defensive errors to be tight at the back, we miss too many chances to be prolific scorers. The manager changes the formation to try to re-jig things in the search for something that isn't there.

We won't go down - too many other sides are just too bad for that to be a worry. We won't qualify for Europe - too many other sides have more solidity and quality in depth for that.

So maybe we'll win the FA Cup? Not unless we start tightening up at the back and taking our chances.

Some marks:
TS 4 - One great save from a Southgate header, but should have stopped the third and what on earth was he doing with Olly, and later Delaney on the edge of his box? Maybe Stefan Postma deserves a place?

Uli - 6.5 - excellent going forwards, as we have come to expect. Went wandering once or twice at the back (well he should have been at the back, but wasn't)
Mark Delaney - 7. Solid as ever.
Olly 4. Not good, again.
JLloyd 6.5 - Decent.

Nobby - 6 - some great touches, drifted a bit too much inside at times
Gav - does what it says on the tin. 6
Whitts - shocking. 3
Davies - 7 - I like him. Hendrie will not get his place back from Stevie just yet.
Barry - 7. Pretty good from Gareth today, I thought.

JPA, Hmmm. Missed a sitter, but otherwise did well. 6

Subs
Berson (HT) 7 - looked the part - composed and elegant.
Cole - 4. I would have preferred Luke to come on. At some point surely DO'L will see that CC and JPA don't play well together and will give Luke a run?

We're half a decent team. Trouble is the half that is missing is not likely to come cheap, so it's not likely to come at all for the forseeable future. Which means we are too reliant on 4 or 5 players and if they have a dip then we're fodder for those who make the effort - either like small heath, with endeavour, or Boro who picked us off with quality.

Meanwhile a good sized away following catch a cold and wait and wait.....tick, tock, tick.

Someone toll that bell for you know who.

 

Saturday, November 27, 2004

In the Evening - Man City match report

 

The run of lancastrian games comes is over, and so from now on it’s the North East and South East for the forseeable future, plus of course a whole host of heavyweight home games, and one against small heath alliance.

The references to gravy, pies, peas and the north west’s lamentable train operator therefore come to an end for a few months, blessfully...
When you go past the COMS on the train, as i frequently seem to have done, you see the super-modern stadium tastefully illuminated in that Electric Blue light they also use in the dashboards of the Mk 4 VW Golf. I’m not sure what time will make of this, but suspect that it will look a bit dated within a year or two - not quite at ease with it’s surroundings, not quite in tune with the times. 

In contrast, the roof, when viewed from the air (on approach to Manchester airport) already looks 10 years old - slightly weatherbeaten, bombarded by the Manchester rain, and all the other entirely predictable unpredictable, seasonally unseasonal weather which seems not so much to happen to Manchester, as to pervade the place.

That’s the COMS then. It’s not actually City’s of course, they just pay the rent. Somehow it is a suitable setting for City, with their dreams of class, though in truth they are happy and proud to be what they are - all fur coat and no knickers. The fur coat is usually worn with a haughty gallic Distain (yes I know) by Monsieur Anelka, while their modesty is left “protected” by the Nicholas (yes, sorry again) combination of the other frenchman and a good ol’ Catholic Irishman called Dunne, who likes a pint or two.

Yesterday Anelka, out injured didn’t play, instead there was to be the combination of Fowler and Macken up front for City. My good friend Ian, a City fan had explained how City were more of a team with Anelka out, and that the defence was mean and organised, courtesy of Stuart Pearce.

I had learnt this in the pre-match discussion which had commenced around 2 O’clock and meandered happily along, until being interrupted by the inconvenience of actually having a game to go to. But top marks to all concerned for their fine company.

After an interminably long bus ride up to the ground, there was just time for a tasty-georgeous meat and potato pie, avec brown sauce. Not HP, but you can’t win ‘em all. Which brings me on to the game.

It wasn’t very good. Particularly the first half, in which Villa were frankly crap. Perhaps the ground with it’s towering sides and small ends disorientated the players, or perhaps they remembered last years shambles. What mainly happened either way, was that City were able to fashion maybe 4 decentish attacks 2 of which they scored from. The first saw Olly cought out of position, then deflect the ball into the path of Macken who managed to turn Delany before rolling the ball into the net past a slightly wrong footed Sorenson. The second goal came out of the Blue a loose ball on the edge of the box hitz’ed left footed by SWP past 2 players who were blocking Sorenson’s view of the shot (and mine). Neither of us managed to save it, but we were both blameless, I feel.

Just before half time Hendrie almost managed to sneak a shot into the bottom corner, but David James diverted the shot for a corner. Good save.

The second half was better, certainly from Villa’s point of view. We had much more of the ball, used it well, but with both forwards having pretty poor days it didn’t come to much. More shots, from Gav, Hendrie, Hitz, on for Barry, and some good little runs from Luke Moore, on for Coley.

City defended reasonably well, although some of the tackling from Mills should have brought a booking, Dunne was booked too for chopping down Hitz.

Rain was drawn towards the stadium from Manchester’s ever willing, obliging clouds and time ticked by.

Another run from Luke after a good turn and he was chopped down by Dunne, a yard outside the box. Referee Riley, officiating in a hollywood style for the cameras decided not to book Dunne (and send him off for 2 yellows) but to give a penalty instead. Wrong decision twice. Still, JPA hurrying a bit hit the ball where I and David james thought he would. And James saved. The rebound looped up waiting for JPA to nod it down into the now open goal, but he headed over. Justice was sort of done, except for Dunne.

Still having missed that chance to send someone off, Hollywood Riley decided to create his own chance, and with a couple of minutes left he saw Mills react to a shoulder charge by Hendrie, leap up from the floor and “confront” Hendrie in that charming way of his. Hendrie stood his ground, the pair of them bickered at each other, face to face. red card for Lee. I don’t think it was right, they could both have got a telling off, or maybe a booking each.

The whistle went, and so did we.

Some marks
TS 6 Not at fault for either goal. 2 good saves

Uli 6.5 Quite good from Uli, no mistakes, solid
Olly 5.5 Average
MD 5.5 OK
JLloyd 5 some poor passing.

Nobby 5 Did he touch the ball
Gav 6.5 - Decent game again
Lee - 7 nice touches, wrongly sent off, but i don’t suppose that’ll be rescinded.
Barry 6 (Hitz 6)

JPA 5
Cole 5 (luke 6.5)

Company - 9/10. Thanks.

 

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Match Report: Funny Time Of Year - Bolton Away

 

Yep, it's another match report from deepest, darkest, chilly, Lancashire.

I seem to go to the Reebok every few months, though in fact it's just the once or twice a season when the Villa play there.

The ground seems familiar now, as does the unreliability of North West Trains "service".

After a couple of pleasing pre match scoops with Risso and young Callum in his local, we caught the 2 pm train (at 2.26) and arrived at the spaceship Reebok. A pie was essential, both because they are good there, and because I was starving. Oh and the warmth of the pastry encrusted comestible was definitely needed, as it was well nippy. Everton two weeks ago had been balmy and sunny. Horwich though, chilled the bones.

I settled into a gentle shiver in the lower tier and was somewhat bemused to see that our opponents weren't "The one, the only Wanderers", but in fact 1980's Wimbledon, only with much better players. Their game is all about long throws, and long balls into the box. Maybe the absent genius of JJ Okocha explained this. Nevertheless they have got some very decent players, and play to a plan and their own strengths - Notably Kevin "I'm not fat - I'm big boned" Davies and the tricky El Hadji Diouf.

We had the same side out as last week, but for a while we were struggling to get to grips with Bolton's style. Olly was losing just about every header against "Inf- Ibb" Davies and Bolton, like the wind, were prevailing from the North.

Then they scored - a ball down the middle, knocked wide, and a Bolton shot diverted by the leg of Diouf past TS.

Villa from time to time were playing some football, and after 15 minutes further straining, a good cross by Hendrie was (mis)headed in by Gav, who was having a good game. Confidence flowed and Villa went off for their half time rest perhaps a bit fortunate to be level.

Playing towards us lot in the second half, naturally most of the action was down the far end, where the long throws reigned, players fell over, sorry were fouled I should say, and a general air of last ditchness pervaded the Villa defensive actions.

Gav was doing a sterling job breaking up play, winning the ball and trying to get us going forwards all the time. Carlton Cole had another good game and the 3 amigos linked well. No one was playing badly, except perhaps for Whitts who was "quiet". Again we did that "no left midfield" formation which leaves JLloyd with a big workload.

Hendrie should have scored for us, after another good build up, but chose to stop the ball rather than hit it first time from 6 yards out. It was then inevitable that he would get himself booked, and he later did. A ban follows. It's that time of year.

The intermittent sieges of our area continued, though in truth it was often hit and hope as much as genuine moves. They hit the post and had a succession of corners. We played on the break, Hitz on for Whitts and Luke for Nobby. Both did well. Luke with some great little runs with the ball and Hitz was a bit more "there" than Whitts.

The game bounced and thudded it's way to what looked like a good point for Villa, as the atmosphere heated up the cold steel stadium. Then with perhaps 3 minutes of normal time left a stunning goal from nothing much. The ball was half cleared from a decent Villa attack, and Der Hammer was on the corner of the area to hit a sweet, powerful Howitzer volley into the top corner. Fortunately the net held it, or there could have been casualties. Still I'm sure a few bruises were gained from the exuberant celebrations, upstairs and down, in the away end.

While playing out the remaining 6 minutes we could have scored again, JPA's shot just tipped round the post by their goalie.

The game ended and we all started to troop off home to live happily ever after (for another week at least).

Outside the ground I danced a small and inelegant jig on the little patch of ground where I had sat angry and disconsolately in the sun when we lost here 1-0 under GT. That told 'em!

We've won away, perhaps luckily - is it the time of year again, like last season, for Villa to move on up? I think it might be.

The support was good (again) - a decent turnout. The stewarding was, however, not (downstairs).

 

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Do You Believe In the Westworld?

 

Everton 1 Aston Villa 1,
Barclays Premiership,
Saturday 30 October.

Another in an ever growing sequence of Lancastrian Match Reports.

Everton have made something of a name for themselves for scurrying about a lot, working hard for the collective good - "the Dogs of War" and "the people's team" are some of the names they seem to have given themselves, as if they're a bit insecure in their own identity and need to big themselves up. Perhaps they're a sort of latter day communist outfit? They lack any flair and must all conform, they're skint and their home is a bit tattered, with none of the trappings of the capitalist outfits. Their major asset has “defected” to the home of imperialism. They have a history and tradition too, but who was it who said again the other day that their future is behind them?

So we know what we would get from Everton, but not what we would get from Villa, though we hoped for better than the gruel of Tuesday night.

Before the feast though, a couple of aperitifs with Pimpernel and two of his Everton supporting mates in the excellent Dr Duncan's. A taxi ride from the centre and into the away end for a steak and boddingtons pie. Most agreeable.

As I mentioned, the game wasn't too hot. Frenzied, sure, but lacking in quality. The pace was too fast, and Everton mostly dictated it. They had the better of the opening 25 minutes, and then from nowhere, again, a quick interchange of passing between Nobby, JPA and Hendrie ended up with L'il Lee sending in another in a recent series of unstoppable bending, dipping shots which swerved past Martyn and into the top right hand corner of the net. Strewth! great goal.

But we couldn't hold on to the lead. 7 minutes later Bent beat the offside trap as Jlloyd just played him on and Everton were level. they'd already had a header cleared off the line by Delaney, and in the second half they again came close a 3 of times - all from Osman I think - a dipping Volley onto the roof of the net, and turn and shot over the bar and a shot that whacked against the post from the angle that stayed out, amazingly. But he went off, Ferguson came on, and our youthful subs settled to hold the game safe for us. Carlton Cole had a chance, but missed like Osman, on the turn.

That's it really. Routine Premier League stew, none of your imperialist running dog fayre for the likes of us.

 

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Shot by Both Sides

 

A Burnley away rant this time.

I feel entitled to have a bit of a rant, and here’s as good a place as any.

I will get on to the match, but the first target for some scorn is the state of the railway. I live approximately 34 miles from Burnley, so why the hell did it take 3 hours to get there on the train? Well the first one broke down. They tried to fix the train, and eventually claimed they had. Then a small and deeply unattractive brat threw up on it. I would maybe have changed trains at this point, but all the TVs with the train info on were out of order, so it was impossible to size up my options. I sat on the train “waiting for a cleaner” before we could leave. Then they said “This service is cancelled”. They hadn’t actually fixed it at all.
I got on the next train, an hour late. There were signalling problems, also at Preston Station. I was now an hour and a half late, and at this rate going to miss the match. I set off by the way at 4 O’Clock from home. I tried to remain unworried by the loss of my beer time. After all, many worse things happen than a train breaking. John Peel had sadly passed away, the local paper said “Woman finds Son dead”. Perspective.

Eventually the slow train reached “Burnley Central”. Could have fooled me. A deserted tiny station at the back of a “shopping complex” with not a soul in site. Too late for the pub, I headed towards the distant floodlights, past, well, nothing much. Just deserted streets, shops and bars. No people, no cars, just the sound of my footsteps in a strange town. I eventually found people and followed them to arrive on’ t Turf 7:20 pm. 2 hoovered scoops in the dingy concourse with a pal I should have met in a pub and then into the stand, clearly signposted “Only sit in your designated seat” Asking a steward where AA 62 was I got the reply “sit where you like mate”. Just as well as with a (startlingly) full away end, I would have taken forever to find it.

So to the game. It kicked off in front of about 9000 Burnley fans and 4000 in the Villa end. Actually before the game, a question. Why on earth did 4000 of us decide to turn up on a Tuesday night at a low key cup game in Lancashire? Was it the 17 quid ticket price? what? Beats me, but there’s something to be learnt there if anyone can fathom it.

Anyway, the game. Ah, yes, well. Burnley deservedly won, and could have won by more. It wouldn’t have been unfair. I don’t know how they usually play, but they were good tonight. Villa were dreadful.

Ulises was rested, with Mark Delaney restored to full back and Ridgewell in the middle alongside Olly. Cole in for the crocked Darius.

We started OK’ ish for 10 minutes, with Burnley looking wary of something that would never come. Perhaps they thought that if 4000 noisy fans go all this way, Villa must be good. They were wrong. After maybe 12 minutes, Delaney fell over, and the Left midfielder crossed for a Burnley player to nod in - beating Ridge to the ball right in front of us. Burnley’s quiet fans roused to cheer and two blokes with flags ran along the longside to loud music. Oh dear.

The rest of the half followed a pattern. Villa looking like a team of strangers kept trying to do the hard thing instead of simple pass and move. We were awful. Only Olly and Gav were looking OK. JPA had little service and the rest, notably Nobby and Whitts were dreadfully poor.

Half time came and went, only notable for an ill matching expensive suit and coat/naff training shoe combo worn by DO’L as he walked down the tunnel and a rousing round of applause for Tony Morley and some raffle thingy. Get your boots Tone.

Villa came out early and we roared at them to give us something to, er, roar, about.
Obviously, things continued to be poor. JLloyd gave away a penalty. And lo and behold a touch of quality from Villa. Tommy saved very well.

Revitalised Villa, um, stayed poor. Passes going astray, hopeful balls up to no-one in particular, offside flags (many very dubious). Disconnected drivel.

Burnley scored a second. A cross-come-shot lashed in from their left again, maybe glanced in by Camara? hard to see.

Jlloyd off injured (sore arm) and Hitz on with Whitts to LB. Luke Moore on for a dire Nobby.

Finally some drive from Villa. Luke skinned their left back looked up and crossed for JPA to head into the net. Easy. Why had it taken 78 minutes and a young sub to show them what should be done?

Villa put pressure on, but still we were poor. Burnley got a late breakaway third, another good goal, by I think, Blake.

Mass exodus from away end.

A sprint back to the Train station. The train was late.

What to make of the day? Were Villa tired? were they complacent? under confident away from home? Were the tactics a bit awry?

Yes to all of these, I think, though I know little about tactics really. Some amateur analysis from my viewpoint says that our shape was all wrong. Whitts either under instruction or “initiative” didn’t stay wide left but played in the middle. No width, Jlloyd asked to defend and attack on his own.
Cole and Angel. We know JPA. He needs quick balls into the area, or to feet. But Cole was making the same runs, wanting to peel off and run at people. He does it well at times, but there’s zero understanding between them. I doubt they exchanged a pass all night.
Nobby was awful, Whitts mostly poor, Hendrie invisible - starved of ball. Gav put in a huge effort, but a lack of response from the rest meant he was trying to do 4 men's work. He failed. But not through his own fault.
Ridge looked rusty, and is forgiven as it’s his first game back after injury.
Delaney used now to Centre-half, wasn’t at all solid, but was not helped by Nobby’s poor form.
Pluses? Well Luke did well for the 12 minutes that he was on, Olly was Olly and JPA showed that he can score in a flash.

So that’s it.

RIP John Peel and that Lady’s son.

 

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Please Don't Throw Confetti

 

I went to the Arsenal game yesterday, so I thought I'd jot down some wildly inaccurate observations on the day.

Geography students amongst the readership (I wish!) may know that London is technically located "bloody miles away" from the North. You'll understand then that to get to Arsenal is a fair old trek, and one that I hadn't made for a few years 'till yesterday. Still with them shortly to relocate to a new ground (in association with the airline of choice of their Arabian fan-base, or something) I thought I'd better nip down to see the old place before it's gone. Oh and their team are something special too.

Anyway, after an Oh-F**k hundred hours departure from home and a couple of train journeys through the rainy english landscape, I arrived in that there London and made it to the pub in good time (time lost from a late departure had seemingly been made up somewhere between the towns of Strewth and Gorblimey in the dull part of the journey - that bit to the north of London that must be hell to live in).

The pub had gone downhill a bit since the last visit and the beer was either off or toxic, so Guinness was the order of the day with some fine folks from the mailing list.

Suddenly it was 20 to 3 and time to leg it to the match. Highbury is hidden amongst the streets and houses and fits in nicely. It doesn't match the modern steel and wriggly tin structures (fortunately) of much of today's premiership, so they must move. I just made it into the ground in time for kick off.

Villa were attacking the far end, and the trend was set within seconds. A perfect tackle from Olly on an Arsenal was rewarded by the otherwise inert Lino by a free kick to them. The ball was crossed in and Campbell headed against the bar. Postma then did that "bar of soap thing", but luckily we escaped what would have been a very unfair start.

Within a minute or so though we were a goal up. A long ball down the line by Barry was aimed for Coley to run on to, in the left channel and his ball across reached L'il Lee on the far side. With a bit of space he took a couple of touches and curled a left footer into the far corner for a stunning 1-0 lead. Arsenal moaned.
Barry got injured by a late tackle from Lauren and Whitts came on.

The game continued at some pace with Arsenal and Bergkamp in particular dazzling Villa, perhaps like a mongoose with a snake. There were at least 20 Arsenal players on the pitch, but they were moving around so fast that I couldn't count them all properly and lodge an official complaint. Not that it would have been heeded, as the Referee, a Mr Graham Cockney was clearly a big admirer of the Arse.

Reyes and Hendrie seemed to spark up an immediate rapport - they understood that they didn't like each other - and they spent a fair amount of time chuntering away to each other, with all the warmth of like recently separated lovers. (What would their offspring be like?)

Getting back to the plot, Arsenal were fantastic, they were making merry down our right hand side, with some fellow called Henry tormenting Uli the jet lagged. I hope for the sake of feline rights that he doesn't have a cat.

The moves would happen like this - Arsenal would get the ball, pass it around, usually through Bergkamp, pull Villa out of position and then an Arsenal would appear unmarked in front of goal and Postma would do a useful impression of Pat Jennings, Villa would hack the ball away and so it would start again. Occasionally though, Villa would threaten to score themselves. We almost went 2 up when either Hendrie or Whittingham nearly repeated the first goal, but from the other side of the pitch. (one of the disadvantages of the trip back from London was getting back just after MoTD had showed the game). Cole was troubling their defenders and the side was working their socks off trying to keep pace with Arsenal.

It was quite inevitable that eventually Arsenal would score, but with them struggling to beat the Postman from normal play, Mark Delaney helpfully brought down Henry for a cast Iron penalty. Daft tackle, but understandable in the circs. Reyes scored.

The chants of "have you ever won the European cup?" we had been singing seemed to irk Henry and when he score their second, from their Eleventeenth attack, he "celebrated" in front of us. Fair do's - give it and you have to expect it back.

There was still time for another spat between L'il Lee and Reyes, where after a "fall" in the box, and with the ball cleared away, Reyes appeared to nut Hendrie, who went down rather easily. He was though, definitely, nutted by the likeable spaniard. With our mate "Lino the inert" looking on from all of 20 feet away, nothing, quite naturally, was done. Reyes should have been sent off.

Half time, 2-1 down, could have been about 5 or 6 -2, but it was a cracking spectacle.

The second half didn't match the first. Arsenal mostly cruised, lots of subs were made by both sides, but the pattern of Arsenal dominating remained the same. Henry scored again and both teams settled for 3-1 I guess. Graham Poll made some strange decisions -the worst of which was when having been following the ball (i.e. looking in the opposite direction) he booked Hendrie after Reyes had thrown himself to the floor and the crowd roared. Still one rule for them and one for us, eh?

There's a lot to admire about Arsenal, their football is fantastic, - it really is a level above anything seen before. Two of the stands at their ground retain the links back to football when it used to everybody's game and used to have style off the pitch, too.

Equally there are a number of things that don't impress - the away end compares less favourably with other grounds with each visit, the "skills" learnt in all those (unsuccessful) European games - the dives, basically - don't do them any favours, though to be fair they are by far from the worst offenders and we're not totally innocent either.

Their fans too, are witnessing the best side ever to have played english league football (probably), yet they seem peculiarly passionless given what is in front of them each week. Perhaps it's the prices - Arsenal used to be very reasonably priced, but 33 quid is not cheap.

One last thought - while we were singing that we'd won the European Cup and they haven't - on looking at the two clubs, the gulf between us, you have to say that they are more likely to win it than we are to even qualify for it. Which is a shame. Clubs like Villa, I feel, should be "up there". Not because we have any right to be, but because we have the capability to be. That we choose to lock this capability in a cupboard in the cellar of the Doug Ellis stand, the door hidden behind a picture of the old scrote is a criminal offence in my book.

I just hope that DO'L is given the tools he needs to break into the safe where our capability is being held hostage to one mans fortune.

 

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Ordinary boys

 

Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa,
Barclays Premiership,
Ewood Park,
2nd October 2004

Another "match day experience".....

So, another match at t'rovers. How time flies.

I’ve lived in lancashire for almost 14 years now and have become accustomed to their strange northern ways. I should say at this point that Lytham, where I live, is clearly a class above Blackburn (which is just down t’road) because a pint of Greene King IPA cost £1.95, in my local on the way back, whereas a pint of Black Sheep in the Adelphi in Blackburn cost only £1.85 - the 10p difference makes all the difference don't you know.

Anyway, in those 14 years, I’ve seen us win at Ewood twice - and I’ve been to every game we’ve played there - so it’s a bit of a bogey ground. Nevertheless, though I was a tad worried because of our record there, I felt we could, just maybe, you know, win again there today. But we didn’t. Again.

It was a decent game. 2-2 draws usually are, what with the goals and all that. It was made more decent, in that along with an ever growing band of exiled Villan friends I had a fine time before and after the match drinking beer, chatting about life and getting home before sometime next week.

So to the details - 2-2 it was. Villa started off with the expected team. Hendrie started instead of an up till now underwhelming Hitz, Carlton Cole in for another “up till now underwhelming” Darius and Barry retaining his place despite a few below par performances. There's no one to come in though is there?

The game kicked off under unfamiliarly dry skies (though it had of course previously pelted it down - it always does in Blackburn).

Without Thor throwing down his bolts of thunder we had to concentrate on the on pitch pyrotechnics. Except there weren’t any. It was ordinary stuff. A million miles from the beautifully oiled, flowing, football now available on ITV 7 by subscription. What we had was two teams, both lacking a bit in confidence trying their meat and potato pie best to serve up a feast.

Villa were the less under confident and while not exactly dominating did look the better side, albeit with the gravy of coherency missing. Still after half an hour or so of gnawing through the crust of t’rovers efforts Villa did take the lead. A through ball (at the far end) from, er, someone (maybe Gav?) found JPA’s run into the box and he was able to whip it into the net before the defenders could say “Oh. sh*t” or Friedel could move.

Nice. A good reward for the sizeable and upstanding away support. Perhaps now we could up it a gear and take over the game. But no. All of 2 minutes later t’ rovers equalised. With Olly drawn out wide to track Dickov, who managed to squeeze in a cross to the near post, Ferguson was left unmarked 2 yards out to angle the ball past a stationary Sorenson. Delany wasn’t tracking him tightly enough, Olly was where JLS should have been. Sloppy teamwork, and a wasted advantage.

Half time came and went and Rovers returned to the field a re-invigorated side. They were much less lethargic at the start of the second, and had us unconvincingly defending for 10 minutes or so. Disastrously they scored from a mistake of sorts by Uli. A long ball was miscontrolled, nicked away from him and Emerton scored from the angle, with the rest of our midfield looking to break forwards.

But they were still not much cop, and we could easily equalise, and maybe go on to win, couldn’t we?

JPA was playing as he did last season. He was our best player, and despite a disorganised and sometimes panicky defence we still had the quality to score. Hitz and Vasell came on for Hendrie (who had unluckily hit the post with a similar effort to last week) and Barry who had been better than of late, but still didn’t look right - he too had come close with one piledriver when picked out by Hendrie, but he probably had time to control and place rather than blast it.

We did equalise though. A corner kick after a period of pressure was nodded in, slightly fortunately by the goal machine Olof Mellberg. Just desserts. JPA had “scored” from a free kick seconds before Blackburn had gone 2-1 up and but some rule about being offside meant that his header didn’t count. Pah! Linesmen!

The game sauntered on at 2-2 with Villa getting the bigger spoonful of peas before the unfamiliar ref (who was he?), having wafted a few cards around, blew his whistle. Nobby must have wondered what he did to get booked, in particular.

So another big day in the north, for me at least, goes by. Two ordinary teams doing ordinary things in a league that is not about ordinariness.

Still, there’s something to be said for pie peas and gravy. Good honest food. Sometimes the fans on their day out can be taken for granted , but football needs us. We all stood up (how dare we) and will probably get some kind of authoritarian rebuke for just enjoying an afternoon out.

Do you know what, if we do, they can shove it up their.....

Maybe 2500 villa fans, perhaps more, at 24 quid a time -what’s that nearly 60 grand. We might not be paying the same as Sky, but Sky wouldn’t want to pay if we weren’t there.

I suggest they replace fox hunting with jobsworth hunting.

Marks:
TS 6
Uli 6
JLS 6.5
Olly 7
Mark D 6
Nobby 6
Lee 6 (DV 6)
Gav 6
GB 6 (Hitz 6)
JPA 7.5
Coley 6

Me I had a chicken Kebab for tea - pie and peas - Gah! who wants that?

 

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Valley Goals: Charlton Eyewitness Match Report

 

Charlton Athletic vs Aston Villa,
Barclays Premiership,
Wednesday 25th August 2004,
Match #3

At long last I made it to Charlton, from my soggy northern outpost. It's taken a few years, but was it worth it?

Ever since Charlton have been up, I've been intending to go there, but a combination of Monday night sky games, my northern location and, last year, railway engineering works, prevented me from going. Not this year though. 2 days holiday, 60 quid on train tickets, a ticket for the match plus one for LV in exchange for a place to kip for the night, plus about 40 quid on beer and food. SO that's about £140 quid, then.

So was it worth it? Er, yes probably, despite the scoreline.

There's the culture shock of going to London - mainly centred around the price of beer - about £2.50 a pint, compared to maybe 1.60 oop north, (for better stuff) and the ubiquity of the umbrella. When it rains in the north-west (and boy does it rain in the north-west) people get wet, the less hardy folk donning a flat cap to keep their head dry. In london everyone walks round with a brolly, it seems. A veritable hazard.

After some beer, and food it was time to get changed and get off to the game. Crossing from central London out to Charlton was a strange experience in itself - you transit a fair distance of barren ground, with nothing but the odd white elephant, giant skyscraper and huge supermarket to look at.

The Valley though is back in the real world, like Blackburn or Sheffield, it's hidden amongst the houses in a hilly area.

The first thing to say is the pre match music is fantastic. "london Calling" and "into the Valley" is just my kind of music. More Clash and Skids and less "urban bin lids" gets my vote every time.

The ground too is not bad. The away end being the only separate stand, the rest rolls round nicely.

And so to the game. With the away end making a right din, Villa were well on top for the first half an hour, several chances going begging, notably Darius hitting the bar early on from close range, and Cole on a couple of occasions defying the jeers of the home fans.

But we didn't score. Charlton in pretty much their first decent move, did. A cross from their left found Jeffers unmarked to nod in easily. Bugger. But it got worse. 5 minutes later, a long punt upfield caught Mellberg underneath the ball, and in his desperate attempt to do, I don't know quite what, he succeeded only in lifting the ball up in the air, for Jeffers, again, to have an easy task to score.

Further calamities ensued, with Tommy S nearly gifting them a goal with a daft attempt to keep the ball in - I get the feeling that he will make one ricket per game. Less than David James, but not good. He did redeem himself just before the break though, with a brave and excellent save after Charlton again got through the defence too easily.

Half time, and having been the better side for most of it, we went in 2 - 0 down.

Unfortunately it got worse. Postma came on for TS, but within 10 minutes we were 3 down, a deflection of Hitz fell to their right back to find himself with time and space to score easily.

One of those days. Things wouldn't run for us, Darius was causing mayhem, and looking to me like the DV we see for England. One run and cross Cole could neither convert not knock back accurately for Hitz, another piece of endeavour robbed defender and keeper, but when a calmer head would have rolled the ball across for JPA (on for CC) or Nobby, or placed home from the angle, he lashed it just over.

It was noticeable that Gareth Barry has inherited the dubious "fans scapegoat" mantle. It's true again he didn't have a great game, but with the rest of the midfield also being poor, to single him out was daft, in my view. I felt a bit for Nobby, as apart from some dodgy crossing, he was given poor service for much of the game.

No one was awful, JPA (as sub)and Darius were very good throughout the game, and the rest played in spells, both good and bad.

Tommy and Gav in the centre isn't working. Both went missing in my eyes, for a spell, and Barry is in a poor run of form. Cole and DV up front look like they are not quite right. The sooner JPA and L'il Lee can get back fit and playing the better.

For Saturday I'd like to see Hendrie come in to the middle, and hitz go out wide left, for Barry. He needs a metaphorical boot up the arse, or some pressure on him to perform. He's not the sole problem, the whole midfield balance is not working after about 30 minutes when all 3 opponents so far have sussed us out.

All that said, we WERE very unlucky, but you have to take your chances, and we need to be less stretched at the back - it's too much last ditch, caused by the midfield being over run and bypassed.

Still I enjoyed the 2 days, and like Charlton as a club. You can't fail to like a club with such taste in music, and one that seems to be thriving despite the number of Glory hunters in London.

Oh, some marks, I suppose
TS 6 (SP 5 - one horrendous dropped catch)
MD 6
JLS 7
OM 5
ML 5
NS 5
TH 5
GM 5
GB 5
DV 8
CC 6 (JPA 7)

 

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Sunday Sun at The Baggies

 

Been to the match today. not a great game or performance, but I thought I'd write a few observations down

I've just got back from the Hawthorns, after an "interesting" game this afternoon.

You sort of know what you'll get with a local derby, especially away from home. You'll get a lot of noise, a lot of chasing around, the odd temper tantrum, plenty of hurry-scurry football, a lack of composure at times and the odd moment of excellence somewhere in there too.

The one thing you can never be sure of is how the ref will interpret the whole thing, or how he'll do.

Today we had Mark "Arsenal" Halsey. Oh dear! We also had one of those Villa performances that drives you mad. And then when you throw in a big Albion side, keen to "compete" you end up with a very frustrating afternoon.

What you hope will happen is that in the face of all this the Villa will use their heads, play good passing football and triumph by using skill. Not a chance. Several of our team today were pretty poor, as was the ref.

It all started so well though, after about 3 minutes a free kick from the right, as i looked, was played into the box by Hitz, and Olly pretty much unchallenged smacked a header into the net.
Albion were stunned, and we had a chance to get right on top, but we didn't really take it. About 10 minutes later an identical move again saw Olly head goalwards, the keeper got a hand to it, but from 130 yards away It looked like it may well have been in the goal, but it wasn't given.

Albion rallied and as Villa persisted in giving the ball away, the pressing of Albion got them right back into the game. Eventually, after a series of free kicks were given against Laursen, a really soft one. Horsfield threw himself to the ground, and the bloody ref gave it. Greening crossed and Clement unchallenged headed an equaliser.

The approach of Horsfield was working with the ref, who was a definite homer - he was allowed to foul and dive with not so much as a telling off, and was given a lot of dubious free kicks.

Laursen looked to be struggling a bit with the challenge - they don't let donkeys like Horsfield on the grass in Italy do they? - and after being booked, as was Olly later on, had to be careful.

That we were under threat was due to inability to retain the ball. Both wide men were passengers, Barry particularly so, and there were alarming gaps in the centre of the park. Both Hitz and Gav were working hard, but something was not right in there. I think it was the lack of help they were getting, although Nobby did do one fine bit of covering for Delaney second half.

Albion huffed and puffed, had plenty of shots well wide and a lot of corners and free kicks, which we mostly withstood well, although given the game the ref was having he might have given them a penalty, when the ball was lashed at Gav and seemed to hit his hand.

It was good to see JPA come on and look fit. There didn't seem to be the same understanding between DV and CC as there was last week, and I was surprised Darius was the one subbed for JPA, rather than Cole - I felt the familiarity of DV and JPA was more likely to lead to to chances for us. Cole though did almost score at the end with a glanced header from a late Villa flurry of corners

The ineffective Barry and Solano were both subbed for Whitts and Ulisses - Ulises looked good, but Whitts was as poor as Barry - he needs to do an awful lot better, does Gareth. Shame there's no one to take his place and put pressure on him. He played like the rest of the team were complete strangers to him.

I suppose the result was right, but the performance was not to good at all in terms of intelligent midfield play. The defenders defended well, Sorenson, aside from one poor kick was excellent and the forwards did what they could with little service really.

Some Marks
TS 7
Delaney 6
Olly 7.5
Laursen 6
Jlloyd 7
Nobby 5
Gav 6
Hitz 6
Barry 4
Darius 7
Carlton 6

Subs JPA 6, Ulises 6, Whitts 5

Ref - poor.

26,601 people shouted a lot, and got stuck in traffic. Grrrrrr. Still, the Sunday Sun shone.

 

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Maps and Legends - Boro Match report

 

Just got back from the match. What a day out that turned out to be.

I started out this morning, in my little red car on a lovely early spring day. I'm not overly keen on Middlesboro' and it has always seemed a bit of a trek, even though from my house it's only 132 miles. But today in the sun, I really enjoyed the drive up the M6 past Lancaster, past the War of the Worlds-a-like wind turbines and then across the Pennines. The tapestry mapped fields bounded by dry stone walls, lambs in the fields and a Kite hovering over a copse, along with a less than successful paraglider were just some of the sights on the way. If I hadn't got somewhere to go, I could have happily stopped off at one of the pubs along the way, and just sat in the sun and watched the world walk by.

Eventually though, Cleveland loomed, past Darlo's White Elephant Stadium and into Middlesborough. You can see the smoke, and the weird towers and Chemicals, the docks and industry. Some people slag the place off for that, but today at least it looked like a proper destination, a town with something about it.

After a couple of drinks with 2 pals, I settled into my seat to watch the match. It had everything you could want really.

Boro' started off brightly and alert. They've come on a bit over the years and looked a fairly decent side, playing with the confidence of their egg cup win, and a freedom from worries about league placing.

Mendieta, Junhino, George the self proclaimed coulda-been Legend Boateng too were all doing well for Boro, with Olly looking immaculate for us, Darius using his pace well - he started brightly against Ego, and had the first real effort on goal, saved by Shwarzer. After half an hour or so of good football from both sides, DV seemed to fade and Boro' came again. A quick and accurate kick from Shwarzer led to a break away, down our left, and with the defence in a bit of a "gone missing" situation, they scored. 5 mins before HT. Nothing Tommy could do. poor collective defending, and RJ I think it was gave the attacker too much space to turn in the build up. Something we did a lot in midfield throughout the first hour I felt.

Anyway, just before the half time whistle Gareth Barry glanced a header in off the post, unmarked from a free kick out on our right, and it was 1-1.

Second half, I thought was going to be a real good test, as well as a continued entertaining game. I was right about the test, but wrong about the entertainment.

I don't know exactly what happened, but with Villa attacking our end 10 minutes in to the second half, a cross was retrieved by Nobby, closely tracked by "Legend" Boateng. A ricochet and a throw. I glanced away. Then next thing "legend" has been killed - lifeless, dead, on the pitch. Strangely the smoggies in the seats right next to the incident didn't howl and roar. Cue confusion, Nobby sent off, protesting innocence. Luckily before the funeral arrangements were too far advanced, a resurrection, just after the red card.
And like the lambs in the field, Georgie Bo was off and gambolling around.

With Darius and Barry both off injured now - Barry with an achilles problem it seemed, and DV hamstring, maybe, we had Delaney on at RB as sub, with UDLC going to wide right and JPA up front on his own. Whitts came on for Barry. 35 minutes, 10 men.

It was all Boro' basically. Corners, possession, and pressing forwards. JPA tired and was replaced with 15 left by Rodders.

While Boro were, with their 11 men, the better team, we had 3 of the 4 best players on the day, in Tommy Sorenson who made a string of saves, catches and punches away. 2 or 3 of the saves were excellent. Olly did not put a foot wrong all game. Best I've seen him play. And Gavin McCann got better and better. He was everywhere, tackling, chasing, organising, breaking through, shooting from the half was line.

Time didn't move on at much of a rate, and was, it turned out, being added on too by Mr Barber at a fair pace - 4 minutes extra was played in the end.

With maybe a minute of the 90 left, a breakaway by Villa, who had by now let Boro' use up all their ideas. Ulises cut inside from the right and hit a decent shot to the side of Shwarzer. He neither held it, nor knocked it far away enough, and Rodders Trotted in to tap in the rebound.

What had been a very lively and vocal away corner went absolutely mental, Rodders was booked for his celebration right in front of us and the four minutes ebbed away for Boro' along with their fans.

What a game. Only football can do that.

The players joined the celebrations at the end, clearly absolutely delighted (and knackered).

 

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Hardy Souls and megabowls - Bolton Stylee

 

You used to know what you got went you went to Bolton. You got grey skies, rain, a dodgy view from a half obscured terrace and a "hostile" welcome and atmosphere.

Now of course, you travel to an out of town retail park, complete with Tennis centre and (probably) bowling alley. And it didn't rain.

The ground is still the best of the new build stadia. Some care and attention was put into it's construction and design. The view is excellent, the family audience can shop happily before and after.

Anyway, this was one of those games where it was just a game. They ain't going down, we ain't going into Europe, end of season games seem quite often to end 2-2, so that was my pre-match prediction.

As for the game itself, I quite enjoyed it, in a "it (the result) doesn't matter" kind of way.
I was pleased to see Liam Ridgewell start alongside Olly (RJ won't play twice in 3 days), and he had a very good game.
I was even pleasder to see Lee Hendrie and Peter Crouch score. We went 1-0 up after a fairly low key 20 minutes or so from a Barry cross from the left, right onto Crouchy's noggin at the far post.

The game then reverted to end of season-ness up until half time. I munched a pie to soak up a few amiable pre match scoops. Why do they have to come in plastic wrappers? No need.

Bolton started with a bit more intent second half, Villa didn't quite seem on the mental pace, and after a short period of pressure, a howler by Ulllises gifted them a goal. He dummied to clear, fooling the blocker, but then dawdled and whacked the clearance straight at the northern monkey's rump and the ball fell kindly to a trotter to lash in past Sorenson.

Immediately though, Villa through Barry, (who had been switched to the right at Half time, with Hitz going to the Left and Hendrie into the middle) scored again. Barry chipped a pass over the Bolton defence, and Hendrie's perfect run left him clear. He just lobbed it over Jaskaaleinen and into the net. Lovely goal. Lee was very pleased, as were the Villa fans filling the upper tier, and those in the lower tier, below.

Bolton continued to do what they do, which is rely on JJ Okacha, switch play a lot, and hurl long throws into the box.
The game looked set to trundle to a victory for Villa, but you just can't tell, or at least you can - that Villa are able to conjure up "moments" at any time.

From a breakaway, Hitz was suddenly clean through on goal, but his shot was straight at their keeper, who saved well. Can't Blame Hitz for shooting, but there were a couple of well placed men - Luke (on for DV) and Dion (on for PC) at the far post.
Immediately from the save, Bolton countered, McCann who struggled all game didn't manage to hold up the Trotter, and they scored. Feck.

There was an average refereeing performance from Matt Matthias, Crouch being particularly unlucky to be booked, the ref never saw anything, and the linesman gave nowt, but with a Trotter prone in the box, a minor scuffle broke out. Hendrie was also booked for, well what he does too much, yapping and chuntering during the incident.

Bolton have a fair few players who fall over very easily, and I felt that they conned the ref a number of times.

The good things to take from the game were the performances of Ridgewell and Barry (MoM by a distance for Villa), the goals for Lee and Rodney and the fact that at no point did we look like losing.

The bad side of it was mistakes leading to their 2 goals. The small squad also suffered, with Vassel injured, McCann poor and looking unfit/injured.

Some Marks
TS 7 Solid.
UDLC 6 (would have been 7 but for the howler)
JLS 7 much better than last week.
Olly 6 - the medium Olly today.
Ridgewell 7- impressive.
Hendrie 6.5 - nothing flash, lovely goal, stupidly booked.
Gav 5 - poor.
Hitz 6 Did OK.
Barry 8 - made 2, our best player by some way. Can still do better though
Rodney 7 - confident, which is nice.
Darius 5 Hmm.
Subs
Luke Moore 5
Dion 6

 

Monday, March 15, 2004

Impressions after Wolves

 

It's a bit late for a match report, although all the ones I've read today have been most enjoyable.

Pete Bland was at Wolves on Sunday, and looks back at the performance...

Going to Wolves yesterday was very enjoyable for me. I used to live in dingle land and on the way back I wandered past the places I used to go in 20 odd years ago and was happy to see that all the pubs are still there, and every one of them still has the same name. Sadly I went on my tod, so didn't nip into any for a quick pint before going home (one in the Bush?). Didn't spoil the mood though.

There's been change on the pitch for Villa over the last 2 years, since JG walked out and into semi obscurity. In a way you wouldn't know it though. JPA up front has improved, and his second goal was that of a quality striker in form. He received the ball right in front of me, controlled it in one touch, took it on with Craddock trailing in his wake and without so much as giving a hint of setting himself the ball was suddenly past Jones and in the back of the Wolves net.

JPA played up front with Vassell, and there there has been a change for the worse. Although they remain the best front two, DV is far from at his best. He works hard, worries defenders with his pace, but too often lacks the confidence to drive at the goal and with his ability to pick out another player in the Villa shirt not his strongest point he ends up frustrating, mainly due to a lack of belief in himself.

At the back, Olly continues to excel, despite giving away a penalty yesterday, and with Ronnie Johnsen alongside him DO'L is picking the best partnership and it's working well. I've always liked RJ, even when he was at man u, and as long as he stays fit, he's a real asset. and allows Olly to play in the way at which he excels. This isn't the case with Dion alongside Olly.

Another regular from JG's team, Lee Hendrie had a blinding game in the centre. His movement and quick feet and quick mind were a menace to Wolves all game. If he played like that every week then he'd have a lot more than just the one cap for England.

Hitz played in the centre with Lee, and he's the first of the younger players to make a big step forward this season. it didn't happen quickly, but he has now lost the annoying habit of going missing for long periods. He's realised that he has to MAKE himself involved. He now looks a very good young player and his shooting and corners are a real threat. It was GT really who brought Hitz back into things and another who benefited from GT's good work with young players is Jlloyd. He's perhaps been my player of the season so far. He looks a quality full back, has pace and skill and his defending and concentration, as well as confidence have come on a bundle.

Jlloyd links so well with Gareth Barry that the two of them together, in an unconventional way make perhaps one of the best left sides in the prem (the other being Pires and whoever for Arsenal). Barry lacks any real pace, but he is pretty strong, has a fantastic touch and generally knows where to put the ball. In the second half, with him attacking right in front of my viewing position it was easy to appreciate what GT and DO'L see in him as a midfielder.

Nobby Solano is still settling in, but he has the ability to make some space for himself, pass well, and although some of his crossing was woeful in the first half he had the intelligence to adjust to the windy conditions, change his game and put through a peach of a pass for JPA's second.

Another excellent DO'L signing was Tommy Sorenson. He saved a penalty (his second pen save of the season) made a couple of other very good saves, and generally looks solid and capable at the back. He also seems to appreciate the fans, which is something I like in any player.

Ulises at right back has his weaknesses as a defender, but nevertheless does his best, benefits from not being booed (No! really!) and didn't let us down. A useful GT squad signing.

With most of our squad being fit we had Crouchy, Luke Moore and Peter Whittingham come off the bench once the game was safe. While they are all young players and all have talent the full strength bench is an area where the criticisms of Ellis' penny pinching are brought into stark view (the other 2 subs were Dion and Stefan Postma) - had we needed to replace JPA, Olly/RJ Nobby or Hitz/Hendrie the replacements would have been, at this stage of their careers a drop down in class. This is the difference between us being REAL contenders and a quite good side, that can play some lovely stuff, tear teams apart on occasion and get run ragged on other occasions.

It's important that we start games well, as there is not the quality to change the personnel if things go a bit wonky. DO'L and Roy Aitken have excelled here and the players have responded brilliantly. They give of their all, seem a "tight" group and play for each other. The style of play is no doubt hard work to keep up, but it's lovely to watch and must be great to play in too. Something that has not been the case for a good few years.

Let's be blunt. Wolves are a poor side and we're a decent side. That's what yesterday proved.

Looking forward, if we are to keep DO'L, keep JPA, Barry, Olly et al and build on what has happened so far this season then something has got to change at our club. Something with the initials HDE. He and Villa have so often failed to take the opportunities available to the club, shrinking back from the big choices, preferring to do nothing and hope instead for the best, that the omens are not good.

The board consists of Ellis who said he would step down but hasn't done so, an NED on a 3 month "trial" whose trial period has expired and 2 time servers in Steve Stride and Tony Hales - Ellis yes men to their cores.

When things go awry, many people will look at the way the club is run at the top and rightly get pretty angry with the nepotism, the mediocrity and the disregard for both the supporters and the history of the club.

When we are doing alright, we are doing so despite the ball and chain, not because of it. How much better could we be doing, and could we be run if only professionalism and the best people were in place?

Yes be happy that the miseries of last season on the pitch seem to be banished, be happy with the improvement in our fortunes as a team, but don't forget that it only takes Ellis and chums a short time to mess things up, and they can usually be found hiding away counting their huge wages and doing very little to take the club onwards and upwards, when they should be helping the manager and players and supporters. look back a year and we were cacking it about relegation, which we eventually missed by 3 points - some poor Sunderland finishing at VP kept us up. Look back 2 years and we were roughly where we are now - comfortably going to stay up, harbouring hopes of Europe.

Like Barry Hole, we're up, we're down, but I didn't go in the Rose and Crown.

 

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rewind 3 months and that's what it was like.

 

I've been to the game today and seen what seems like a return to the away form we have grown familiar with. Was it just a hangover from Sunday? How much are we missing Gavin? And what's all that about Gary Neville?

I went off to tired old Goodison Park again today, replete with hangover developed with great care and attention in Manchester last night. (Gary Neville was in the one pub, as was Tony Wilson, still I didn't let it spoil my night, but I digress.)

In the cold conditions, and on a dry pitch we didn't get to see a great game today. Everton did what Everton do, which is try hard, hope that Rooney does something special, or Duncan Disorderly can trouble his way to a goal. Villa did what Villa do too often, which is not much away from home.

The ref, a Mr Messias, did what he is apparently known for doing too, made a load of bemusing and inconsistent decisions, baffling players and fans on both sides alike.

Anyway, Villa had less of the ball in the first half, partly because Darius was invisible and JPA too was unable to hold the ball up. Nevertheless we had certainly the better chances to score, and ended the half on top. Barry headed just wide after losing his marker, Hendrie, Nobby and a couple of others had shots saved well by Nigel Martin, and someone, Barry or Hitz or Hendrie ( I couldn't see clearly down to the far end from my position behind the opposite corner flag) hit an absolute screamer which just whistled over. Oh and JPA could perhaps have scored with an instinctive shot saved by Martin. Everton had a couple of Rooney break aways, one stopped by Mellberg and one by UDLC, and JLloyd also did well to stamp out a dangerous attack.

There were touches of class in patches from JLloyd in particular, Barry on a couple of occasions and by Rooney, but really the game was being controlled to the greatest degree by Gravesen - a big sturdy lad, up against Hendrie and Hitz was always going to prosper in today's conditions, and so he did.

Second half we started very brightly, with a sustained period of attacking in which Vassel held off two defenders but then shot straight at Martin from 5 yards, it wasn't an easy chance, but he should have scored.

Gradually Everton got the upper hand and it was I felt inevitable they would score. Having taken off Steve Watson for Radzinsky, it was the little guy who got the goal, losing Mellberg and beating Sorenson to a Rooney cross with 12 minutes left. They got another shortly afterwards when Gravesen ran into the box and beat TS from an angle with a low shot into the corner.

We lost because we didn't take our chances and Everton did, because our recent passing game broke down too often, and because too many players seemed lackadaisical compared to the Everton effort.

Crouch came on for Vassel, to no avail for 15 minutes, by the way

Some Marks
TS 6
UDLC 5.5 - patchy, both good and bad
JLloyd 7.5 - Our best player by some distance
Olly 6 - solid, but lost his man for the first goal
RJ 6 Perhaps might have done better for their second. Handled Ferguson as well as possible.
Nobby 5 - Class but it didn't tell today.
Hendrie 5 - ineffective today from Lee
Hitz 6 - OK from Hitz.
Barry 6.5 - his linking with Jlloyd continues to be a major strong point for Villa
DV 4.5 - Frankly poor first half, better second, but he's capable of much much better.
JPA 4.5 - As with Darius, worked hard, but no real threat to Everton. Both forwards did need better service, but both have to hold the ball up for us to create pressure, and relieve it on ourselves
Crouchy not on for long enough

Ref 4 - baffling. No shockers, just a poor general performance.

Crowd - Theirs - quiet
Ours - rubbish, frankly. Noisy, but Tracey Andrews, various songs about jobs, stealing, etc. - Pathetic. Or perhaps it was just the inadequates around by me, but I wish the Coppers would have thrown more of them out. That's not support, children, it's pathetic.

 

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thoughts from the North; Bolton Report

 

Here's my report from last night's Reebok event

This isn't so much a match report as some general bemused ramblings about last night's game. I haven't seen any TV, or read any papers so a few facts may be wrong.

The first thing to say that it was a damn good game in terms of attacking football, if not from the Villa defence point of view.

Following a pre-match drink or 5 we found ourselves in the top tier of the South Stand at the Reebok. One of the best views you get at away games, I was in row UU which meant I could see the pattern of play, but too far away to tell whether free kicks really were fouls. I could also see vast expanses of empty seats in the other 3 stands - I think the attendance was about 17000 in a ground that holds 28000.

The first 16 minutes of the game were a disaster defensively for Villa. 3 minutes in and JJ Okacha curled a free kick over the wall with Sorenson rooted to the spot. - He seems to let a lot of free kicks in - is it just bad luck/good execution or a weakness?

With their next couple of attacks Bolton scored 2 more goals, one of which saw Kevin Nolan run through a fairly open defence, easily slip past Olly and finish well. The other I think was a header from Davies, although I may be wrong.

Villa looked shocked. I certainly was. But despite being 3-0 down I felt we could get back into the game. I guess the players did to. JPA and Hendrie for me were the two that were really driving the effort to recover. JPA it was who scored, some nifty footwork followed by what looked like a cross which went straight in. Of all the players on the pitch, JJ Okacha, Djorkiev etc. it was JPA who looked the classiest. Bolton couldn't get the ball off him, he was everywhere.

Half time and we were 3-1 down. Not as bad as it could have been given the start we had, and going forward we looked good, yet at the back shaky. Next goal for us and we would be right back in it, we were saying.

We did get the next one - I'm not sure if it was Vassel who got the final touch, but a text from my Bro said the goal was well offside. 2 lucky goals for us then.

The game was an end to end attacking match, Villa on the up and Bolton still dangerous. Especially when you leave big Centre halfs unmarked at corners. Ngotti 4-2. Damn. It was around this time that Olly was injured, he had to be replaced by RJ - I guess it was concussion. And if that wasn't bad enough a free kick by JJ Okacha from the angle was blistered into the net, leaving burnt air in it's wake. Unstoppable.

At this point heads dropped in the Villa side, and amongst the fans too. 5-2 down and Bolton back on top.

The last part of the game saw Villa make errors further up the pitch. passes went astray as the search for a 3rd goal and a chance in the tie proved fruitless.

Villa had earlier made some strange substitutions - Vassel was taken off for Allback and Barry for Hitz, with Peter Whittingham moved out wide.

I have a hangover and a sore throat.

Can we still do it?

Blandy

 

Saturday, January 17, 2004

How Not to Sell Tickets - a post script

 

Yesterday I spoke to Bolton's ticket office manager, Graham Holiday. I did this following Villa's explanation as to why we didn't take a full allocation for Bolton - which they claimed was because if we did, then Bolton would have insisted on 6300 tickets for VP for the second leg, and that by taking 3400 Bolton agreed to take only 3000.

What Mr Holiday had to say was both good and bad.

He praised Villa as a good club to deal with from his point of view, and talked about the help they had given him regarding showing him our ticketing system, which is a more modern version than theirs - they are upgrading. He had been to VP this week for half a day, with that purpose.

He mentioned various other clubs which he also thought were good, and one particular club down south who were not at all helpful (he did say who, but I see no need to pass that on - it's not relevant to this issue). It is I think reassuring to find out that (most) clubs work well together and that therefore us lot, the fans will, as a result, get a better level of service.

Regarding the Semi final, he expressed complete shock at the explanation given by Steve Stride regarding a deal, although he did say "we'd probably say that too - blame the other side"

There is a caveat in that he said (warily) perhaps the secretary knows something about it. I have tried to talk to their Secretary, Simon Marlden, but have so far been unable to catch him. I was told he'd call me back, but they have a game on, and I'm not exactly top priority!

Bolton DO have a fair number of restricted view tickets, as our ticket office have said - I suspect they are low down directly behind the goal - where the net/posts get in the way, and perhaps where police/stewards also obscure the view - I forgot to ask.

The initial allocation Villa took was exactly the same as available for league games 10% of capacity - he believed that both club were just trying their best to be fair to each other and all the fans from both sides - ie not take more for either game than they thought they could sell, thus letting the home team have the unwanted seats.

He explained that they had done their best to help Villa, who they clearly like and get on well with, when the request for extra tickets came in.

From talking to him it seems to me that it's just a case of Villa (Steve Stride) underestimating demand, being swamped and then our ticket office staff doing their best, with Bolton's assistance, to rectify the situation.

The explanation from Steve Stride didn't seem right when he gave it, and it seems much more unlikely having spoken to Bolton and heard what they have said.

Graham also said that Bolton don't take their full allocation for most grounds - because they know they won't sell the tickets, and whether they are sale or return, or pay up front it's not fair to their opponents. He did say though that although he thought there was no way they'd sell 6300 tickets for VP, perhaps if they won the first leg 4-0 or 10-0 they might!

Finally he said he liked Doug Ellis as he "tells it straight" - but then all through the chat he was a bit cagey "as you could be anyone". He seemed like a nice bloke who didn't want to drop Villa in it, or say anything "controversial"

I conclude that our ticket office staff and the fans were the ones dropped in it by Steve Stride making a(nother) misjudgement about ticket demand. I also conclude that excuse given by the club is bunkum. And that the reason they didn't put out the promised formal announcement is for exactly that reason.

Shame.

(note: if the BWFC secretary does call me back and tells me more/differently, I will update this article - I can only write based on what I am told)

 

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

How Not to Sell Tickets to People Who Want to Buy Them (Part 2)

 

Following on from the problems we had with the Manchester City away game early in the season, comes another contentious issue regarding ticket sales to our own fans by the club.

This time it's the Carling Cup semi final first leg at the Reebok next wednesday.

Rule 21 of the Competition rules says

"In all Cup Ties, the Visiting Club shall have the right to claim 15 per cent of all tickets reserved or otherwise sold in advance subject to the consent of the Management Committee and on the following conditions:-
(a) The request for tickets shall be made within three days of the draw...
(b) The tickets allotted to the Visiting Club, if numbered and reserved must be equal in value to those retained by the Home Club.
(c) Unless otherwise mutually agreed in writing, all tickets shall be on a sale or return basis....
(d) A Visiting Club shall be entitled to one third of the seats usually reserved and known as "Home and Visiting Directors Seats" up to a maximum of 24 seats.
(e) At every home match, a minimum of 15 per cent of the total disabled spectator accommodation must be made available to disabled supporters of the Visiting Club.

The Capacity of the Reebok is 28,700 meaning that Villa is entitled to ask for over 4200 seats, for perhaps the most important away game for 3 years.

Strangely though it soon emerged that we had in fact only asked Bolton for 2760 tickets. Unsurprisingly these tickets were very quickly sold out, with regular season-ticket holding fans being guaranteed first dibs.

Seeing the demand, Villa then asked Bolton for additional tickets and 600 were forthcoming, which also sold out to season ticket holders yesterday morning. Telephone callers were refused tickets due to the large number of people in the queue and around 50 of these poor souls were unlucky along, obviously, with all the people refused on the telephone. These unhappy would be customers are ALL season ticket holders. Villa it seems will not be able to get any more tickets, as having declined them originally, Bolton are now selling them to their own fans.

The decision on what allocation to take is made by Steve Stride.

The "stick" from frustrated and disappointed season ticket holders is taken by the ticket office staff.

The tickets obviously never got to the stage of going on general sale.

That's one side of the story.

The other side, as explained by the excellent ticket office manager, Nicky Keye is that a deal has been done with Bolton, such that they will also not take the full allocation to which they are entitled, leaving and extra 3000 plus seats at VP for our supporters in the second leg. A similar deal was done with Arsenal for the '96 semi.

It is also the case that for the league games in which we have taken the full allocation (e.g. Man Utd) selling out has been a close thing, so the Club perhaps finds it difficult to gauge demand for what is a televised game in midweek. Even though it is a semi final.

I understand that the club will be making an announcement/statement on the official web site later today, as a result of the furore and disgruntlement, but a number of questions and comments spring to my mind at least. I hope they are answered.

1. Did the Club realise initially that the Bolton Tickets are Sale or Return - ie no financial risk to the club of taking the full allocation and then not selling all of them? I suspect that they didn't. Certainly the ticket office staff didn't as it was (wrongly) explained to me on friday by one of their number that if we didn't sell all the tickets, we'd have to pay for the unsold seats.

2. Did the Club underestimate demand for the game from Villa fans - I suspect that they did, massively so.

3. Was the arrangement made with Bolton based around convenience for the two Clubs at the expense of the supporters - selling away tickets is a bit of a pain, and less away fans means less police, less costs and less hassle.

4. Does the Club realise that they have disappointed a large number of their most loyal customers - season ticket holders, as well as a further number of non-season ticket holders. I suspect that they do, hence the unprecedented statement to be given later today.

5. The ticket office has an excellent Manager in Nicky Keye. That she took the time to explain and discuss the situation.

6. The deal done favours Bolton - Given the relative size of support of the two Clubs, it is Villa fans who end up the losers - it is more than likely that all the Bolton fans who want a ticket will get one for both games, the same is not true for Villa fans.

7. Is it right that a decision on how many "no risk" sale or return tickets is taken at such a high level as the boardroom? Should staff not be empowered to take decisions at the working level? This applies throughout the club.

8. Will the club stop shooting itself in the foot?

 

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Stereotype - Anfield Match Report

 

Just got back from the match, and I have to say it was probably just about a fair result, given that Liverpool carried more threat than us. The goal was a tad lucky, in that Heskey's header certainly wasn't going in, but it bounced up and hit a combination of Danny Murphy and Mark Delaney, and with Tommy Sorenson wrong footed, trundled gently into the net from about 2 yards out.

Owen had earlier missed from about 2 yards, hitting the crossbar on about 12 minutes.

As Villa came back into the game, Vassell had a good chance after Angel had beaten Henchoz in the air down the far end, but Jones saved well. The goal came about 10 minutes from half time, just after McCann had been booked and off injured after a tackle in midfield. The booking was harsh, but the ref, Graham Barber was consistent in that he booked 4 others for similar